A postcard from the WTTC in Buenos Aires

Attending the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in Buenos Aires last month was a great opportunity to hear from executives of the world’s leading travel companies and from significant global players – including current and past presidents and prime ministers of destinations who have prioritised tourism in their economic and social development strategies.

As a determined tourism advocate, I am firmly of the view that tourism is a driver of economic activity and job creation for many countries and destinations. The evidence base for this is strong. In 2017, while world GDP was up a solid 3.0%, tourism GDP was up 4.6%. Tourism and travel jobs account for one in ten jobs worldwide but most notably, one in five new jobs.

The story is at least as impressive in Australia where tourism growth for the recent year is sitting at 6.1% outpacing the national rate of economic growth for the third straight year.

There were so many takeaways from the Summit, but for me, three key themes were:

Tourism – an engine for employment and economic activity:

What was abundantly clear is tourism is now on the radar of an ever increasing list of countries and these destinations are responding to the opportunity and investing. Argentina, as the host nation of the Summit, is planning to double the land dedicated to national parks and is deregulating its aviation sector to allow for more airlines to fly to the country. Actions such as these are critical if destinations are to make the most of the opportunity.

One of my favourite quotes from the Summit came from a panel of former presidents and prime ministers. The former Spanish Prime Minister said about the need to invest in tourism, “love that is not reflected in the budget is not love”.

The goal of secure and seamless travel is potentially closer than we think:

A critical element in supporting the continuing growth of the tourism sector is facilitating the movement of passengers across the world. We learned the technology to make seamless travel a reality is already here. The US Office of Travel & Tourism Industries revealed they were piloting technology and processes that within four years would allow visitors to go from home to destination without showing a passport or boarding pass.

While many passengers are willing to share their data to facilitate seamless travel, the goal of seamless travel may be held back by limited implementation of agreed standards.

Tourism as a force for good:

Importantly, and beyond the economic benefits which are increasingly well understood, discussions at the Summit underlined the sector’s key role in safeguarding the world’s precious natural landscapes and protecting cultural assets.

One of the tremendous success stories highlighted was that of Rwanda, where the country’s focus on sustainable travel and tourism has been a key factor in its economic development, and has seen it become one of the most remarkably transformed countries in Africa. Efforts to protect the country’s gorilla population and establish national parks have led to Rwanda welcoming a million visitors per year, generating significant income from visitors creating jobs and livelihoods for the surrounding communities.

Tourism was also recognised for its role as an antidote to protectionism and populism. In his address, the Minister of Tourism for Argentina spoke of how the country’s focus on tourism, beyond driving opportunities for investment and development, also brought connectivity, community and dialogue to Argentina after having felt isolated from the rest of the world.

I travelled back to Australia after the Summit with a strong sense of purpose for the future of the tourism sector.

Travel is fatal to prejudice […] and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. – Mark Twain

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