Rebuilding Travel? UN joins UNWTO in throwing the towel?

Today, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined the rest of the United Nations, the UNWTO, and the rest of the world in delivering another interesting speech with ideas everyone could agree on. Unfortunately like the rest of the world, the SG has no immediate solutions to keep travel and tourism alive.

COVID-19 infections are progressing in almost every corner of the world. Travel restrictions cripple commerce and kill the travel and tourism industry. Once restrictions are relaxed, more COVID-19 cases usually follow 2 weeks later. Safe Travels becomes a trend, but how it can be done is more than fragile. If there was a powerful UN, a global shut down may actually resolve the issue. 

What the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said today is so true, but in reality nothing more than another empty speech. There was no solution, no call for action. It confirms the United Nations like the UNWTO and the rest of the world has no clue what to do. is now an initiative started by this publication and with members in 117 countries. Many good ideas are being introduced, but there is little light at the end of the tunnel. It confirms the UN is not alone in being frustrated.

Here is what a frustrated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier:

As part of the wider UN response to COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released today a thematic brief on the impact the pandemic has had on tourism. Drawing on the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the lead author of the publication, it warns that as many as 100 million direct tourism jobs are at risk, and the massive drop in export revenues from tourism could reduce global GDP by as much as 2.8%. The brief stresses that tourism is an essential pillar of the SDGs and the most vulnerable workers and nations at greatest risk.

Tourism has been among the hardest hit of all sectors by COVID-19 and no country has been unaffected, with restrictions on travel and a sudden drop in consumer demand leading to an unprecedented fall in international tourist numbers.

The “Tourism and COVID-19” Policy Brief from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, makes clear the impact that the pandemic has had on global tourism and how this affects everything from jobs and economies to wildlife conservation and the protection of cultural heritage.

Mr. Guterres said: that “It is imperative that we rebuild the tourism sector” in a “safe, equitable and climate-friendly” manner and so “ensure tourism regains its position as a provider of decent jobs, stable incomes and the protection of our cultural and natural heritage”. The UN Secretary-General further underscored that tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors, providing “livelihoods to hundreds of millions more”, while it “boosts economies and enables countries to thrive”, and at the same time allowing “people to experience some of the world’s cultural and natural riches and brings people closer to each other, highlighting our common humanity”.


The Brief warns that the impacts of the pandemic on tourism are already placing conservation efforts in jeopardy. Citing case studies from around the world, it warns that the sudden fall in tourism revenues has cut off funding for biodiversity conservation and, with livelihoods at risk in and around protected areas, cases of poaching and looting are expected to rise. Again, the impact on biodiversity and ecosystems will be particularly critical in SIDS and LDCs. Furthermore, with 90% of World Heritages Sites having closed as a result of the pandemic, both tangible and intangible heritage is at risk in all parts of the world.

Five points priorities moving forward

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Tourism touches on nearly every part of our societies and is a cornerstone of growth and employment, both in developed and developing economies. The United Nations Secretary-General echoes the five key priority areas that UNWTO has identified for tourism to return and drive wider recovery, and both governments and the private sector now have a duty to put this plan into action.”

The Policy Brief notes that women, youth, and workers in the informal economy are most at risk from job losses and business closures across the tourism sector. At the same time, destinations most reliant on tourism for jobs and economic growth, including SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are likely to be hardest hit, including through an anticipated fall in foreign direct investment (FDI).

In addition to calling for strong support for the sector in mitigating these massive impacts, the Brief stresses that this crisis represents an opportunity to rethink tourism, including how it contributes to the SDGs. To this end, the Policy Brief provides Five Priorities for the restart of tourism, all aimed at ensuring a more resilient, inclusive, and carbon-neutral sector. These priorities are:

  1. Mitigate socio-economic impacts on livelihoods, particularly women’s employment and economic security.
  2. Boost competitiveness and build resilience, including through economic diversification and encouragement of MSMEs.
  3. Advance innovation and digital transformation of tourism
  4. Foster sustainability and green growth
  5. Enhanced focus on coordination, and responsible leadership

Alongside penholder UNWTO, a further 11 United Nations agencies contributed to the Policy Brief, highlighting the sector’s unique importance and outreach.

Great talk but it’s what it is – a great talk.
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