Tourism’s Quantum Leap: Diverse Investments Fuel a Global Renaissance

By Erum Khan (Senior Fellow UN SDG’s, Director Odyssey,Consultant Sustainable Tourism)

the world converged in Riyadh to mark UNWTO World Tourism Day 2023, the spotlight illuminated a pivotal call to action – investments. Beyond the grandeur of the day’s festivities, the resounding message echoes loudly: the future of tourism beckons a departure from conventional investments. It beckons the dawn of an innovative era that places people, the planet, and prosperity at its core. The day of celebration has passed, but our shared commitment now charts the course ahead.

This commitment transcends borders, uniting nations in a common cause. It presents not only challenges but also boundless opportunities and a beacon of hope. By redirecting our investments towards sustainable tourism, we not only confront the pressing challenges of our time but also lay the foundation for a future characterized by inclusivity and equitable growth. It’s a collective journey toward a more sustainable and prosperous world.

Tourism Minister Ahmad Al Khateeb: At the UNWTO World Tourism Day Riyadh Summit, Ahmed Al Khateeb, the Minister of Tourism, extended a warm welcome to all attendees. He emphasized the sector’s global significance, employing one in ten and contributing over 20% of GDP in many countries. He noted its post-pandemic recovery and the remarkable surge in travellers from 180 million in the 1970s to 105 billion in 2019.

Al Khateeb posed a pivotal question: where will the additional one billion travellers find their destinations? He highlighted the significance of ensuring direct flights to destinations, as over 50% of tourists express a reluctance to visit places with 2-3 stopovers. This underscores the necessity for seamless connectivity, especially in smaller countries, which require investment for development.

Saudi Arabia’s commitment to global investment, bolstering the private sector, was made clear by Al Khateeb. He stressed the importance of regional collaboration to develop and promote specific destinations, taking inspiration from countries like Jamaica and Fiji. Notably, a trend is emerging where local destinations are not in competition but rather collaborative efforts to attract new investments and visitors. Al Khateeb’s vision encompassed the untapped potential of spectacular destinations across continents and oceans, all awaiting sustainable development.

Al Khateeb urged harnessing technology to streamline travel processes while emphasizing the continued central role of human interaction in the tourism sector. He celebrated hospitality as a source of cultural exchange and called for global cooperation in achieving sustainable tourism goals.

Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary General Speech: The UNWTO Secretary General  Zurab Pololikashvilibegan by offering condolences for recent events in Morocco. He acknowledged the unique nature of this year’s World Tourism Day celebration, uniting 45 Ministers, hundreds of delegates, and 500 representatives from diverse regions. He expressed gratitude for the gathering in Riyadh, emphasizing the unity for tourism and green investment.

Reflecting on his initial visit to the Kingdom, he highlighted his meeting with the Minister of Tourism and Prince Salman’s visionary outlook. Prince Salman had discussed the Saudi Vision 2030 and its role in tourism’s contribution to this vision. The Secretary General mentioned the progress of five major tourism projects and the Saudi commitment to making the country more accessible, which led to achievements like the E Visa.

He acknowledged the Kingdom’s resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid development of UNWTO’s regional and Gulf offices. The Minister of Tourism and Princess Haifa were guests of honour during the historic launch of the Riyadh office in 2021.

The Secretary General praised the Best Tourism Villages Project initiated by the Riyadh office, recognizing 116 rural tourism destinations, including Al Ulla in the Kingdom, as exemplars of heritage preservation.

He celebrated the forward-looking Saudi approach, highlighting the transformative Red Sea Development Project, which turned the Kingdom into a “must-see” destination within five years. The Secretary General expressed confidence that other countries would be inspired by this example. He concluded by emphasizing the multifaceted nature of Saudi tourism, extending beyond just a tourism destination.

Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO Saudi Tourism Authority: In his speech, Mr. Fahd Hamidaddin expressed gratitude for the opportunity and stressed the importance of delivering impactful ideas. He highlighted tourists as agents of goodwill who seek inspiration and stories, building cultural bridges through their travels.

He referenced studies showing that the least-known destinations often provide the most rewarding experiences, leading to a collective decision to rejuvenate the power of tourism. Amid a world growing increasingly divided, Hamidaddin underlined tourism’s unique role in fostering conversations between people.

He emphasized the need for Tourism Diplomacy, not limited to lesser-visited countries but extending to even popular destinations like France and Spain. His address was a call for unity, celebrating Saudi Arabia’s exponential growth and the role of new leadership in this economic revolution. He highlighted the opportunity to skip generations, driven by a young and talented population.

Executive Director UNWTO Natalia Bayona: Bayona began with condolences for Morocco and welcomed attendees. She emphasized the importance of investment, noting the impact of safety and security on FDI. Despite challenges, 70% of developing countries attract FDI, with the service sector, including tourism, growing by 68%. She stressed the need to diversify investments beyond hotels and resorts, highlighting trends in the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa. Quality investments are vital, with Spain, China, and Mexico leading in job creation. Sub-sectors receive 61% of investments in hotels, 16% in technology, and 9% in entertainment.

Innovation saw $48 billion invested in the last five years, with technology resilient during the pandemic. Tech and start-ups attracted 40% of investments, predominantly in the US, North America, and Asia Pacific. Natalia urged governments to innovate and create comprehensive investment frameworks. Addressing the skills gap is essential as 16% of the global population is young, and millions of qualified workers will be needed by 2030.

In conclusion, she highlighted a commitment to promoting tourism and announced an agreement to scale up online education initiatives. Prosperity lies in innovation and youth empowerment, particularly in SMEs. She concluded by announcing the Women in Tech winners and their collaboration with over 50 governments to drive new investments, putting people at the centre of the sector.

The Seismic Shift: Sustainable Tourism through Global Unity

The UNWTO World Tourism Day Summit in Riyadh heralds a profound transformation in the tourism industry, underpinned by a resolute commitment to green investments. This shift is characterized by two pivotal aspects: the diversity in investments within the sector and the diversification of investments across all destinations, including those less developed. It’s nothing short of a revolution, a journey toward innovation, sustainability, and global unity.

This transformation is not a mere trend but a fundamental shift that will redefine the global travel and tourism landscape. It transcends conventional investments, branching into various sub-sectors, such as education and technology. The industry is evolving, no longer confined to hotels and resorts but expanding its horizons to ensure resilience and adaptability in a rapidly changing world.

Crucially, innovative mechanisms of global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and other investment methods are at the heart of this transformation. These mechanisms hold the key to bridging financial gaps and creating opportunities for sustainable development, particularly in less developed nations. They empower these countries to unlock their untapped potential and position themselves as enticing tourist destinations on the global stage.

The seismic shift is deeply intertwined with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As emphasized at the recent SDG Summit in New York, International Conference on Sustainable Development and the World Investment Forum by UNCTAD, world leaders gathered to discuss the progress toward the SDGs and the vital role of innovative and sustainable investments in bridging financial disparities. Addressing these disparities, especially in developing and least developed countries, is imperative for achieving these global objectives.

As we move forward, the upcoming COP28 will serve as another critical forum to amplify the voice for addressing financial gaps and promoting green financing, particularly in the context of climate change. It will further align with the goals of making the world more sustainable through innovative financial mechanisms and green investments. This demonstrates the interconnectedness of global efforts to address pressing challenges.

Ahmed Al Khateeb’s emphasis on direct flights and regional collaboration signifies a transition from competition to collaboration, a fundamental aspect of the seismic shift. It’s not merely about promoting individual destinations; it’s about forging networks of like-minded partners who work collectively toward a sustainable future. This shift towards collaboration extends not only to lesser-visited countries but also to popular destinations, reflecting the comprehensive nature of this transformation.

The UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, rightly underscores the power of partnerships and the substantial role of Saudi Vision 2030 in propelling progress. Saudi Arabia’s remarkable transformation from an “unknown” to a “must-see” destination serves as a model for nations worldwide, demonstrating that visionary approaches and strategic investments can transform a nation into a beacon of sustainable tourism.

A particularly noteworthy aspect of this seismic shift is the dynamic investment landscape in technology and entertainment. These sectors epitomize the industry’s adaptability and resilience. In an era of rapid technological advancements, investing in technology is not just a trend; it’s a necessity. The 27% increase in technology investments in 2021, even during the pandemic, highlights the industry’s forward-looking nature.

Natalia Bayona’s initiatives, such as online education and Women in Tech awards, exemplify a proactive approach. These initiatives promote innovation and inclusivity, addressing the skills gap and ensuring that technology benefits everyone. This is a pivotal step in building a future where no one is left behind.

As the host of this pivotal summit, Riyadh plays a central role in translating these ideas into practical actions. The city is not merely an event host but a facilitator of a global movement. It stands as a force for unity, innovation, and a brighter future, propelled by Riyadh, the UNWTO, and visionary partners from around the world.

In summation, the seismic shift within the tourism industry signifies a quantum leap towards pioneering investments across diverse sectors. It’s a global movement, a catalyst for unity and innovation. This transformation isn’t a fleeting trend; it’s a paradigm shift that will mold the future of travel, harmoniously aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It embodies a collective commitment, a shared mission, and the road to a more sustainable, just, and thriving world. The journey has begun, and the destination is brighter than ever before.

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