The World of International Organizations Explained

UNWTO seeks greener, more ethical travel

A zip line across Quebec's Chutes Coulonge, a former logging area-turned-Canadian ecotourism draw (ARÊTE/Michel Rathwell)

The United Nations World Tourism Organization said on Monday that 117 nations have recommitted to making global tourism more sustainable, inclusive and ethical after a five-day annual gathering.

More than 1,300 participants at UNWTO’s General Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia last week focused on how to make the global tourism sector more sustainable while maintaining its importance as a key driver of growth and employment. Next year’s assembly is to be held in Morocco.

The organization’s secretary-general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said that tourism has “firmly established itself as not just a major economic force but also a key part of the global sustainability agenda.”

Tourism now accounts for about one in 10 jobs worldwide, according to U.N. figures, but it also uses up significant amounts of energy, water and other resources and is generating huge amounts of waste, including marine plastics, sewage, and greenhouses gases that are harming the environment.

“Our mandate is to manage this growth for the many, not just the few,” said Pololikashvili. “This means harnessing technology and innovation to create more and better jobs.”

The World Wildlife Fund reported last year that more than 200 million tourists visit the Mediterranean region each summer, causing a 40 percent spike in plastic entering the sea. And with 80 percent of all tourism taking place in coastal areas, the pattern is being repeated elsewhere around the globe.

The meetings in Russia also sought to encourage more entrepreneurship, innovation and education. UNWTO’s member nations agreed to conform to wider U.N. principles by agreeing to adopt a new Global Convention on Tourism Ethics.

“I congratulate the countries who took this historic decision to elevate ethics of tourism into a binding legal instrument,” said Pascal Lamy, a French businessman and former head of the World Trade Organization, who is now chair of the World Committee of Tourism Ethics, an independent and impartial body within the UNWTO. “Globalization needs to be harnessed by principles that make it better, not worse, for humankind.”

Future jobs

The UNWTO’s 2030 Agenda for Africa, specifically requested by African member nations at the organization’s previous General Assembly, is built around a 10-point plan for expanding the continent’s tourism sector while using it as a catalyst for economic growth and social development.

Ministers and private sector leaders debated the role of tourism in creating jobs and training workers. UNWTO announced a partnership with IE University in Madrid that they have called the Online Tourism Academy. Supported by Qatar, the new academy was set up to allow tourism sector workers of all levels to enhance their skills, with a particular emphasis on preparing workers for jobs most needed in the future.

In partnership with Globalia, Spain’s largest tourism group, UNWTO also announced the launch of a new global initiative aimed at identifying and supporting the best new ideas in tourism. Last year’s contest attracted more than 3,000 applications.

“This General Assembly has demonstrated that, globally, the tourism sector is ready to stand up and be counted as a leader in the Sustainable Development Agenda and in innovation,” Pololikashvili said in a statement. “If tourism is to fulfill its massive potential as a creator of jobs, driver of economic growth and catalyst of equality, then it needs to be open to all, and open to new ideas.”

The world of international organizations explained.

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