Interview: It’s time to rethink tourism, the economic lifeline for millions |

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is one of 15 specialized agencies of the United Nations, whose goal is to promote tourism around the world, making it the driving force of economic growth and sustainable development.

Speaking to Bessie Doe of UN News at the end of 2021, shortly after the agency’s General Assembly, Ms Orosevic began by outlining the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on tourism, and the prospects for recovery.

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

world tourism organization

Executive Director of the World Tourism Organization, Zorica Orosevic

Zoritsa Orosevic: Tourism was the sector hardest hit by the crisis, as were all the people and livelihoods that depend on it. Basically, it was a very difficult two years, but we see that in the future we will have to completely rethink the sector, maybe this is an opportunity.

Developed countries were more willing to support the blow, mostly with financial packages to support industry and small businesses, and try to keep people’s jobs. Developing countries were already struggling to do so.

We created the Tourist Recovery Package, a tool for quick assessment of what to do in a particular country, and we created the first ever code to protect tourists, because building trust is really a very important component for people who decide to travel.

We fully agree with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the importance of engaging in safer travel protocols rather than stopping travel altogether, because we know how many livelihoods depend on tourism, not only directly, but also those who work in industries that depend on the sector , such as food production, services and manufacturing.

At a time when the population is increasingly moving to urban areas, rural development through tourism will certainly be one of the main trends in this sector. We have launched an initiative called Best Tourist Villages, and we will have a global hub for rural tourism development.

Tourists view the eruption of Fuego volcano from Acatenango volcano, Guatemala.

UN News / Jing Zhang

Tourists view the eruption of Fuego volcano from Acatenango volcano, Guatemala.

UN news: Are you saying that the hit to tourism is unprecedented?

Zoritsa Orosevic: This has certainly been the biggest crisis ever in the sector. Basically, it’s like we’re going back 30 years in 2020. Over the past three decades, tourism has grown steadily by about four percent each year, so now we have a situation where we have a lot of supply, a lot of business, and no tourists. .

Countries that had the size and purchasing power of it, such as China, were able to switch to domestic tourism, but for small developing countries such as Fiji, which were hardest hit by the crisis, and where tourism accounts for between 40 and 70 percent of GDP, this is not possible.

We are calling for harmonization of travel protocols, which has been highly volatile because, even if countries reach an agreement, a change in the state of the pandemic means it cannot be enforced.

The most successful countries were those that were able to communicate very clearly, clarifying protocols. Greece is a great example: it opened in July 2020, but was contacted long in advance, and many tourists who were planning to go elsewhere went to Greece instead, because they were so knowledgeable.

Paris has almost been emptied of tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IMF photo/Cyril Marcelhase

Paris has almost been emptied of tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN news: How do you inform ordinary tourists about the progress made in harmonizing travel protocols internationally?

Zoritsa Orosevic: We have really boosted our social media presence, and we have hundreds of times more followers than we used to. We do our best, but it’s never enough, so we very much welcome new ideas and new opportunities.

UN news: What do you say to people whose livelihoods depend on tourism?

Zoritsa Orosevic: First, I would say that this sector is very resilient: we all dream,and we all want to travel. At the moment we need to improve education and training, but I think the future is bright. Tourists will return and will be more respected than before: there will be a new path to happiness in tourism and cultural exchange.

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