Tuesday, April 16, 2024
 
 

Sustainable tourism to help world economies, societies

Interview with Alessandra Priante, Director for Europe at the UNWTO
AXP Photography
St Mark's Square in Venice, Italy

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NE Global sat down with Alessandra Priante, the Director of the UNWTO for Europe, the UN agency that promotes sustainable and responsible tourism, to discuss the current state of the industry, including mass tourism, the future of short-term rentals, and the last UNWTO General Assembly in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Priante, who is also an expert on the Middle East, served as Italy’s Senior Cultural Diplomatic Representative for the Gulf States. She previously held the role of was the Chief of Multilateral International Relations and Tourism Policy for Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture, helping to prepare Italy’s National Strategic Plan for Tourism in 2017-2022.

NE Global (NEG): Which measures are important to support a more sustainable tourism industry?

Alessandra Priante (AP): UNWTO, in its role as the UN’s only specialized tourism agency, is pursuing several innovative initiatives to promote sustainable tourism. For example, UNWTO, in collaboration with the UN Statistics Division, is propelling the development of the Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism program to provide all countries in the world with a common framework to measure the impacts and contributions of tourism on the economy, society, and the environment, at both national and sub-national levels.

The Statistical Framework for measuring the sustainability of tourism is a valuable guiding tool for countries to produce credible, comparable, and integrated data to better guide decisions and policies for sustainable tourism – including the Sustainable Development Goals.

The implementation of standard accounting tools to monitor the economic and environmental aspects of tourism. The UNWTO is compiling, verifying, and submitting national-level data to the UN Statistics Division.

Currently, there are 10 pilot countries under the Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism program, including Italy, Austria, and the Netherlands. These pilots help respond to specific policy questions from authorities, while also feeding back to the framework with critical information for its improvement.

Without adequate metrics in place, it would be impossible for tourism authorities to know their performance and in what areas they should improve sustainable tourism practices. This is where the collaboration with UNWTO is indispensable. Furthermore, for the third consecutive year, the UNWTO is pioneering a global initiative that seeks to enhance rural villages in every region in the world – “Best Tourism Villages.” The main objective of this initiative is to recognize those villages that represent an example of a rural tourism destination with cultural and natural assets, that preserves and promotes community-based values, products and lifestyles, and that support a clear commitment to sustainability in all its aspects – economic, social and environmental.

Each year, the applications received from countries will be assessed by an independent advisory committee through a set of indicators covering the following areas: cultural and natural resources; promotion and conservation of cultural resources; economic sustainability; social sustainability; environmental sustainability; tourism development and value chain integration; tourism governance and priorities; infrastructure and connectivity; and health, safety and security. In 2023, a total of 76 villages from 41 countries in the five world regions achieved this recognition.

NEG: After COVID, has the tourism industry completely recovered?

AP: Although not completely recovered since the pandemic, tourism is on the rise steadily in Europe and around the World. This year, in particular, has borne surprising results in terms of percentage growth of international tourism arrivals compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to the latest UNWTO Barometer from September 2023, which is issued on a quarterly basis, international tourism recovered to 84% of pre-pandemic levels in the period January-July 2023 (-16% versus 2019) following a strong second quarter and early part of the Northern Hemisphere summer season.

Travel demand continued to show remarkable resilience and sustained recovery, amid economic and geopolitical challenges. After reaching 80% in Q1 2023, international tourist arrivals hit 85% of pre-pandemic levels in Q2 2023 and 90% in July 2023, backed by continued pent-up demand. An estimated, 700 million tourists travelled internationally between January and July 2023, about 43% more than in the same months of 2022, though 16% fewer than in 2019. Europe, the world’s largest destination region, reached 91% of pre-pandemic levels, supported by robust intra-regional demand.

The complete Barometer is available here: UNWTO World Tourism Barometer and Statistical Annex, September 2023: UNWTO World Tourism Barometer (English version): Vol 21, No 3 (e-unwto.org)

NEG: Mass tourism can be dangerous for many reasons. Venice would like to introduce a ticket system to enter the city as part of its effort to curb overcrowding.

AP: Rather than tackling mass tourism with the imposition of tickets or taxes, I think there’s a need to address the root cause – the poor management of the tourism influx and effective foresight towards future trends over a determined period, e.g. knowing when the peak travel periods are. In a city like Venice, all of this data is very valuable to determine strategies that favor a more equal distribution of tourist arrivals over the course of the entire year – rather than concentrated in two or three peak periods. In short, the goal is to find an equilibrium between incentivizing tourism at the right time and at the right places or destinations which ultimately maximize the gains for a particular tourism hub.

NEG: What do you think about short-term rentals and AIRBNB, both of which have grown at breakneck speeds in Europe?

AP: The rapid growth of short-term rentals and related online travel platforms over the past years has been truly remarkable. On the one hand, they facilitate travel, easily matching the demands of travelers and consumers who are constantly on the look out for good bargains on the internet while planning a holiday or week-end getaway. Thanks to short term rentals, travel within Europe is contributing to local economies. However, certain precautions should be taken into consideration, as was clearly presented earlier this year by the European Commission through its new rules on short term rentals. First and foremost, information such as the identity of the host and location of the short-term rental should be reliable and transparent. Public authorities can guarantee that such activities are licit and contributing regularly to the formal economy of a country. Without these types of rules there would be utter chaos, ultimately undermining the tourism potential of countries in the long run.

NEG: Uzbekistan hosted the last assembly in Samarkand. What did you think about the Uzbek proposals as the country opens up to tourism?

AP: Uzbekistan has remarkable potential to scale-up its tourism industry in collaboration with the UNWTO. This is an excellent opportunity for the UNWTO to deepen its work in the region, drawing on a long-standing partnership with the government of Uzbekistan.

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