ROUTES SILK ROAD: View From The Top - UNWTO Secretary General, Taleb Rifai

UNWTO’s roots can be traced back to the First International Congress of National Tourism Bodies, which met in London in 1946 and now supports the interests of 156 countries, six Associate Members and more than 400 Affiliate Members in the private sector. Our sister magazine, Routes News, spoke to Secretary General, Taleb Rifai to learn more.

Q) What are the UNWTO’s forecasts for future tourism growth globally?

A) Tourism’s growth momentum is set to continue – our long-term forecast projects an average 3.8% increase in international tourist arrivals every year, to reach 1.8 billion tourists by 2030. By 2030, 57% of international arrivals will be in emerging destinations.

Q) What is UNWTO’s new agreement with Routes aimed at achieving?

A) This agreement, which was signed during ITB Berlin in March, aims to enhance the co-operation and strategic partnership between UNWTO and Routes, particularly in the areas of air connectivity and travel facilitation. This means closer co-ordination and heightened cross- promotion in the implementation of programmes and projects.

Q) Why did UNWTO partner with Routes?

A) Routes is a valued Affiliate Member of UNWTO and shares our commitment in promoting closer co-ordination between aviation and tourism for sustainable tourism development. As Routes’ core business is aviation route development, it makes sense to deepen our working relationship. By aligning our priorities and strengthening our co-operation, we can work more efficiently in realising our policy objectives of air connectivity and travel facilitation. The UNWTO believes closer co-operation with private sector stakeholders is crucial to sustainable tourism development, and our agreement with Routes is a good example of this.

Q) Why will the UNWTO Silk Road Task Force meet at Routes Silk Road?

A) The UNWTO Silk Road Task Force’s goal is to raise the tourism profile of countries along the Silk Road. Key representatives from Silk Road destinations, UN agencies and the private sector will discuss and plan priorities for tourism development along this ancient route. By combining the Task Force Meeting with Routes Silk Road, participants will have the opportunity to network and participate in a comprehensive programme of events focused on aviation, route development and visa facilitation.

Q) Why is Africa a priority region for the UNWTO?

A) Tourism in Africa is booming – it has been one of the fastest growing tourism regions in the last decade, and this is expected to continue to 2030. There is development potential in the region, where most of the world’s Least Developing Countries (LDCs) belong. Many of these LDCs rely on tourism as a main economic sector and source of employment. Tourism’s growth, however, brings the challenge of sustainable development. Our recent agreement with Routes is a positive step in achieving our goal of sustainable tourism development by improving air connectivity in Africa.

Q) What progress has been made in tourism development in Africa in the past year?

A) Africa has made great strides in its visa facilitation schemes, thanks to closer regional co-operation. Recent data shows that there was a 30% drop of traditional visas in the region between 2008 and now. Conversely, visa-on-arrival schemes are slowly becoming the more common approach, increasing from 3% to 32% within the same period. Leading these visa improvements are West Africa and Southern Africa, while East Africa remains very open in terms of visa facilitation. A multiple-entry visa was launched last year for Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. In the same vein, there is an ongoing initiative to introduce a Univisa, or a single visa system similar to the Schengen visa of the EU to allow free movement within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Member States.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…