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Need to adopt holistic approach to sustainable tourism: Taleb Rifai

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ETW STAFFHyderabad

After playing host to the big ticket COP II World Bio-Diversity Conference last year, Hyderabad again hosted a world gathering to give a boost to world tourism with leaders from over 24 countries comprising 300 delegates who participated in the three-day 25th UNWTO Conference held from April 12-14, 2013 on sustainable tourism at Park Hyatt Hyderabad. Taleb Rifai, secretary general, United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) rubbed shoulders with N Kiran Kumar Reddy, chief minister, Andhra Pradesh; K Chiranjeevi, union minister of state for tourism, lauding the efforts of Andhra Pradesh and India in promoting travel and tourism.

“Hyderabad, the city of pearls, has been etched into the pages of history as it is coming up with a blueprint to boost the growth of travel and tourism sector across the world,” said Rifai, in his inaugural address. “There is a greater need to adopt a holistic approach to promote the concept of sustainable tourism across the world as the tourism sector is recording a tremendous growth. In a matter of six years, the number of tourists crossing the borders recorded a phenomenal growth from a mere 25 million to over one billion,” he said.

The concept of sustainable tourism is likely to catapult the image of India and particularly Andhra Pradesh as the major tourist destination in days to come if the deliberations of UNWTO Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development (STD) are to be taken into consideration. The blue print will come up with strategies which will help the development of travel and tourism sectors of various countries across the world by widely promoting the concept of sustainable tourism development.

The concept has assumed importance in the wake of a research report by International Air Transport Authority (IATA) which said that by 2050, the number of tourists crossing the borders of their nation on tours would increase from the existing one billion to 16 billion. The Conference deliberations primarily focussed on how to cash in on the growing markets. Chiranjeevi said that it was proposed that the incentive structure for adopting a criterion for sustainable tourism development in the country be changed. India was amongst the first few countries in the world to have finalised the sustainable criteria for tourism development for accommodation and tour operators sector. Urging the industry to collaborate and adopt these criteria, Chiranjeevi said, “We propose to suitably change the incentive structure to achieve this. Asia and Pacific with its vast range of destinations and products could achieve higher growth than projected if we develop synergy and promote our products and destinations jointly. The intra-regional and inter-regional joint tourism promotions were going to be the key for rapid growth of this crucial economic sector.” Emphasising on the need for tourism to be ‘holistic’, he said this means the sustainability of culture, natural resources, heritage, community development and mainstreaming of deprived groups.

In his opening remarks Rifai said that 2012 was a historical year for the tourism sector as more than a billion people had crossed international borders with a four per cent growth globally. “It was particularly remarkable for the Asia and Pacific region where the growth was seven per cent. Globally, a similar growth of three to four per cent was expected this year and around six to seven per cent in Asia and Pacific region.” Rifai said.

He said that growth and sustainability were not a zero sum game. “More growth must mean more preservation and sustainability,” he added. Speaking on the occasion Reddy said the state was trying to develop infrastructure to attract tourists and said plans were afoot to build world class convention facilities at Tirupathi, Visakhapatnam and Warangal.

Martin Craigs, CEO, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) said the number of air travellers were expected to reach 16 billion by 2050. It would be a massive challenge to prepare ground and build infrastructure. WTO was committed to provide tools for its members for promoting sustainable development.

Speaking on the second day of the conference Chiranjeevi said that the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA), Hyderabad will be among the few airports that will soon provide visa on arrival facility to travellers, It is learnt that 11 countries have already extended this facility and six more are to follow suit in the near future. He said that the tourism ministry’s endeavour would be to bring more international events to India and make the country a leading MICE destination. He added that delegates from 23 nations in the Asia Pacific region, who came together at the three day meet, have decided to exchange the best strategies and practices to chart the development of sustainable tourism.

“The conference shared the concept of global observatories for sustainable tourism based on systematic application of monitoring evaluation and information management techniques for promoting sustainable tourism,” he said. It was also decided to support the candidature of Cambodia for hosting the 21st session of the General Assembly of UNWTO.

Speaking on the occasion, Rifai said, “The Conference deliberated on easing visa regimes, taxation policies and aviation connectivity to promote tourism.” Tourism with its resources and revenues has the potential to contribute significantly to economies and no country can ignore the contribution that the sector could make to its progress. The sector holds potential to create one job for every 43 visas granted and number was much lower in developing countries like India

The main challenge was to address concerns of tourists being put to inconvenience of standing in queues and long waits for obtaining visas inspite of strong growth in their numbers. “Reports suggest that one out of every seven venture out of their place on a global scale. Countries that are complicating their visa norms are hurting themselves,” he added. Replying to queries he said, “There are difficulties with varying degrees of intensity, in every country at a time when tourism is emerging as a ‘human right’,” he said.

Meanwhile, quoting from data, Parvez Dewan, tourism secretary, MoT said there has been a 2.3 per cent growth in tourist arrivals during the previous years and an 11 per cent dollar growth income from tourism during the same period.

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