UNWTO works to identify the challenges standing in the way of tourism’s restart as well as the key opportunities to return stronger and better. Building on the progress made before the pandemic hit, UNWTO-led initiatives have helped to restore trust in travel while working alongside businesses and destinations to embrace the power of innovation and digital.
Big ideas require strong backing. To deliver on its enormous potential, tourism requires the appropriate levels of properly targeted investment. For this reason, UNWTO serves as the bridge between tourism and investors, making clear that the sector will deliver big dividends, both social and economic.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) joined forces with UNWTO to boost the recovery of the tourism sector across the 38 economies where the Bank invests. The EBRD committed all its activity in 2020-21 to helping its region counter the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with investments reaching close to €21 billion. The Bank targeted all sectors of the economy, including tourism and hospitality, which were particularly affected by the pandemic.
The EBRD and UNWTO continue to advance joint work on driving sustainable recovery, to accelerate the transfer of climate finance and to make green technologies more accessible for the tourism sector worldwide through the Bank’s online shopping-style platform Green Technology Selector, which can complement existing UNWTO’s online resource efficiency tools such Hotel Energy Solutions (HES) or the ambitious Nearly Zero Energy Hotels (neZEH).
Similarly delivering targeted support across a whole region, UNWTO partnered with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) partnered with UNWTO to lead a conversation on what the pandemic’s impact on global tourism means for development across the Asia-Pacific region. Held as part of the World Trade Organization’s Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking Event, the special session brought key sector representatives together to assess how the sector can be transformed to drive recovery and build sustainability.
At the same time, UNWTO and CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen their collaboration to accelerate tourism development through investments. The agreement will see the two organizations work together, with the aim of attracting, promoting and mobilizing investments in tourism across Latin America and the Caribbean. It places special emphasis on enabling access to innovative financing mechanisms and on promoting green investments that can accelerate tourism’s shift towards greater sustainability.
At the global level, UNWTO joined Tourism Ministers from the G20 nations as well as leaders from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in October 2020 to call for strong and urgent action across three fronts to sustain millions of livelihoods. Similarly, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and UNWTO are collaborating continue to work together to provide technical assistance for project focused on sustainable tourism governance and marketing and promotion.
This determination to put tourism on a new, better path meant UNWTO ensured the power of tourism was a part of the conversation of the world's largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative, UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. The UNGC event gathered 20,000 global leaders from 180 countries to discuss how business can support countries and communities around the world.
The efforts of UNWTO are being rewarded at the highest level, from Heads of State to landmark support from Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, who has underscored the sector´s ability to lead economic growth and recognizing UNWTO’s leadership stating how “tourism can be a platform for overcoming the pandemic”.
Alongside UNWTO, 11 other United Nations agencies contributed to the Policy Brief, highlighting the sector’s unique importance and outreach.
Tourism's crucial role in the recovery of national economies and global trade has been further highlighted in the 2022 edition of the World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report by the United Nations. Drawing on data from UNWTO, WESP underlines the sector’s importance for the world economy and particularly for developing economies, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
In May 2020, the United Nations General Assembly for the first time ever dedicated a session on tourism and its pivotal role in inclusive recovery and growth. As the first UNWTO Secretary-General to address the UN General Assembly, Zurab Pololikashvili stressed that “now is the time to build resilient and peaceful societies and tourism can help make this happen. Tourism is a leading provider of opportunities because it is based on people, builds bridges, and helps create a better tomorrow for people everywhere.”
"We face a critical opportunity to not only reboot tourism, but to transform it to make it more resilient, more sustainable and more responsible"His Excellency Abdulla Shahid 76th President of the UN General Assembly
“No doubt tourism can be a very important part of the post pandemic recovery. The partnership between UNWTO and UNCTAD can provide many of the instruments and support that this important sector needs for this recovery to be inclusive, to be sustainable and to be dynamic.”Rebeca Grynspan
“Strong collaboration between the health and tourism sectors must continue. That includes protecting the health and safety of people working in tourism as well as travelers. WHO is committed to working with the tourism sector to drive the global recovery and to build a healthier, safer, fairer and more sustainable future.” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General’
Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO and UNWTO have been committed to working together, in close consultation with other partners to assist States in ensuring that health measures are implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary interference with international tourism.
Both UN Agencies have kept regular coordination since the outbreak of the pandemic. WHO has participated in the Global Tourism Crisis Committee, created in March 2020 to guide the tourism sector and formulate a sector-wide response to the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic and restart tourism with data-driven decisions based on scientific evidence.
“When it comes to stopping the spread of new virus variants, blanket travel restrictions are simply counterproductive12. In fact, by cutting the lifeline of tourism, these restrictions do more harm than good, especially in destinations reliant on international tourists for jobs, economic wellbeing and sustainable change.” Joint statement on restrictions on travel by UNWTO & WHO.
In July 2022, UNWTO and WHO announced that they will work together to strengthen ties between tourism and public health in Europe’s smallest states. Recognizing the need to learn from the lessons of the crisis, the two UN agencies will further develop their collaboration and strengthen cooperation.
The “Montenegro Statement” around the theme “Towards better health and well-being in small countries of the WHO European Region” recognizes that health and tourism are deeply interconnected in the globalized world, and the reopening of travel and tourism is crucial for economic recovery, jobs and livelihoods in small countries. It highlights that cooperation and collaboration are required and supports the creation of a coalition of partners on health and tourism, jointly coordinated by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the UNWTO to elaborate the evidence for policy measures and facilitate country dialogue.
Tourism and culture have always been inseparable. The shared values and close ties between tourism and culture stakeholders means both sectors can work together to ensure inclusive access to heritage, as countries around the world recover from the pandemic.
At the early stages of the pandemic, more than 80% of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites closed, seriously jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of cultural professionals. Culture proved indispensable, and the demand for virtual access to museums, heritage sites, theatres and performances reached unprecedented levels. During this digital transition, tourism and culture forged alliances with tech companies and the private sector to improve access to capacity building programs on culture and sustainable tourism, available online.
UNWTO and UNESCO have partnered to promote tourism development as a tool for safeguarding culture, contributing to sustainable cities and the use of technology to facilitate access for all. In 2021, both UN Organizations collaborated to produce a set of new guidelines “UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide, Issue 2: Cultural Tourism” focusing on the responsible restart of cultural tourism”. The publication analyses the impact of the pandemic on their respective sectors. This includes how lost revenues are severely impacting communities, heritage sites, cultural events, spaces and institutions, while also weakening destinations’ competitiveness and market differentiation.
The collaboration between UNWTO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) includes shared goals relating to the sustainable and responsible growth of rural tourism, such as encouraging entrepreneurship within rural communities, particularly among youth and women, with the aim of providing them with access to both local and global markets for their products. Other priorities include fostering education and skills to provide communities with opportunities within the tourism sector.
UNWTO and FAO signed a first Memorandum of Understanding during the pandemic, establishing a strong new partnership that will deliver for rural communities and mountain destinations, while emphasizing the vital links between sustainable tourism and sustainable food production and consumption.
Tourism and air travel are essential pillars of growth and opportunity. UNWTO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have agreed to strengthen their partnership with the aim of supporting the safe restart of tourism and accelerating the two sectors’ shift towards greater resilience and sustainability.
ICAO has been an essential part of UNWTO’s Global Tourism Crisis Committee and part of UNWTO’s Committee for the development of an International Code for the Protection of Tourists as an observer, actively contributing to the drafting of the Code. UNWTO has also contributed to ICAO’s COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), working to identify and recommend strategic priorities and policies for countries and aviation industry operators.
ICAO Secretary-General Juan Carlos Salazar said ‘’I wish to express ICAO’s deepest gratitude to UNWTO for being such an effective partner and contributor to aviation’s response and recovery efforts, including through the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force, or CART. I think our organizations have demonstrated an excellent level of solidarity and efficiency to go through this challenge and we now have a very solid foundation and some excellent motivation to guide our future collaboration”.
UNWTO and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have a longstanding close relationship as natural partners in fostering tourism as a viable development opportunity and helping to position tourism as a major economic driver in developing countries. The latest of these ambitious projects is “Tanzania Tourism Recovery through Digital Transformation and Local Economy Development”. The project focuses on the preparation of an Integrated Tourism and Local Economic Development Strategy.
According to industry data, the cruise sector supports 1.2 million jobs and contributes US$150 billion to the global economy every year. Tourism is an important sector for Small Islands States, where it sustains millions of livelihoods and brings substantial socio-economic benefits.
UNWTO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) also recognize the efforts made by the industry, countries and international organizations to protect the safety, health and well-being of passengers and crew, as well as the health of the population of destination port States of cruise ships.
The unprecedented drop in international tourist arrivals as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic rolled back progress made towards achieving gender equality and efforts to empower women and girls. With women making up around 54% of tourism workforce and also often concentrated in low-skilled or informal work, it meant they felt the more acutely and quicker than their male counterparts.
To help address the challenge, UNWTO in partnership with UN Women released a "Inclusive Recovery Guide for Women in Tourism" on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021. The document provided recommendations to policymakers, businesses and civil society actors in tourism for designing gender-responsive measures in response to the ongoing pandemic.
The recently published Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines for the Public Sector in Tourism continue UNWTO’s work on women’s empowerment and are in line with a growing trend within tourism to address gender inequalities. The guidelines stand alongside a growing number of similar initiatives such as the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP’s) or the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reporting scheme. The guidelines were developed with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and UN Women.
The 112th session of the Executive Council in Tbilisi, Georgia (September 2020) was the first major in-person event involving tourism and the United Nations held since the COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. During this meeting, the Secretary-General outlined the accomplishments of the preceding 12 months. This included the provision of technical support to Members and launched the ‘Tbilisi Declaration: Actions for Sustainable Recovery’. The Declaration recognized tourism as one of the worst-affected of all sectors by the pandemic and identifies the global standstill as a chance to realign the sector towards a more sustainable and inclusive future.
Addressing Council members, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reinforced the role of tourism in protecting the planet and its biodiversity:
“Tourism can be a force for good in our world, playing a part in protecting our planet and its biodiversity, and celebrating what makes us human, from discovering new places and cultures, to connecting with new people and experiences. This Executive Council is an important platform of collaboration to explore the way forward and to support the future of tourism on which millions of people’s livelihoods depend. The decisions you take today can help shape the future of tourism, making it more resilient and sustainable, driving green economic growth and supporting jobs”Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General