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When 1.2 billion tourists become 1.8 billion, will we be ready?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Mr Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, has placed a very important question on the table as the globe observes World Tourism Day today.

Pointing out that last year 1.235 billion travellers crossed international borders, Mr Rifai said that by 2030 this 1.2 billion will become 1.8 billion.

“The question, as we celebrate World Tourism Day 2017, is how we can enable this powerful global transformative force, these 1.8 billion opportunities, to contribute to make this world a better place and to advance sustainable development in all its five pillars,” Mr Rifai said.

He identified the five pillars as:

1. Economic: yielding inclusive growth;

2. Social: bringing decent jobs and empowering communities;

3. Environmental: preserving and enriching the environment and addressing climate change;

4. Cultural: celebrating and preserving diversity, identity, and tangible and intangible culture; and

5. Peace: as an essential prerequisite for development and progress.

As Mr Rifai correctly points out, tourism “brings hope, prosperity and understanding to many lives and livelihoods all over the world”.

How we manage this industry and its growth is therefore extremely important, because even as every country wants to attract large numbers of visitors, no one, we believe, intends to sit by and allow damage to the very infrastructure that pulls visitors in the first place.

For instance, a number of European cities are reported to be struggling to balance their need for the economic spin-offs from tourism with their need to ensure that visitors don't destroy the product.

A recent BBC report pointed out that the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, home to approximately 1,500 people, has been welcoming five or six times that number of people as cruise visitors on a given day.

Dubrovnik's dilemma is rooted in the fact that its ancient appeal is being bolstered by the immense popularity of Game of Thrones , because the city serves as the main locations for the HBO hit series.

The visitor crush has got so bad that the Dubrovnik Times editor, Mr Mark Thomas, is reported by the BBC as saying, “When I first got here, I'd stand back if I saw that people were taking photographs of each other. Now there are so many people that I know if I did that, I'd never get anywhere here.”

The BBC also reported that the small Italian island of Capri has warned that it could “explode” under the pressure of tourism because as many as 15,000 visitors a day travel by boat from the mainland to visit Capri's once-idyllic streets and squares.

Thankfully, we don't have that kind of problem here in Jamaica. At least not yet. But our tourism authorities would do well to include in their planning contingencies to deal with any such development.

At the same time, we must continue to recognise the value of tourism to our country and its people. For, in addition to its contribution to the economy, tourism facilitates an exchange of cultures and spawns friendships that can have a lasting effect on good international relations. Also, if we are strategic about managing the industry, it can serve a great purpose in raising awareness about the industry's immense contribution to development.

We extend our best wishes for a productive World Tourism Day.