LEGAZPI CITY, July 19 (PNA) – In his recent trip to Spain where he was invited to a meeting by officials of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) at its headquarters in Madrid, City Mayor Noel Rosal got an inspiring advice: use the high-impact economic activities of tourism as a tool for local development.
The invitation came from UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai who had expressed appreciation of this city as a potential center of community-based tourism in the Philippines.
Community-based tourism is defined as socially sustainable -- meaning, tourism activities that are developed and operated, for the most part, by local community members and a reasonable share of the revenues are enjoyed by the community in one way or another.
Another important feature of community-based tourism is its respect for local culture, heritage and traditions as its system actually reinforces and sometimes rescues these and implies respect and concern for the natural heritage, particularly where the environment is one of the attractions.
The most important aspect of community-based tourism development is planning, which ensures sustainability involving community awareness and education that would not only keep people interested and supportive but prepared to take advantage of opportunities.
“We are developing local tourism in innovative ways through communities, including various individuals and groups, small business owners, entrepreneurs, local associations and the city government, given that the development of these industries is a growing phenomenon as communities respond to the opportunities of tourism,” Rosal said.
He said that during his stay at the UNWTO headquarters last June 9, he met and exchanged views with the organization’s Secretariat on Tourism development and Promotion from which he got the advice behind laments that despite being a high-impact economic activity, tourism still receives limited attention from some governments and other stakeholders as a tool for development.
The UNWTO is the UN agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability.
It is working to raise awareness about the need for higher financing for tourism in development cooperation to fully deploy the sector's potential, given that half of the world's least developed countries have identified tourism as a priority instrument for poverty reduction, according to Rosal.
The organization describes tourism as one of the key socio-economic sectors of our times as it now moves more than one billion people across international borders each year -- positioning the industry as one of the world’s leading growth engines owing to the globalization of goods and services, more leisure time, technological and transport evolution and rising middle classes.
Rosal said that according to the UNWTO, tourism accounts for nine percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), generates more than US$ 1.3 trillion in trade income or 30 percent of the world’s services exports, and provides one in 11 jobs worldwide.
As a trade in services category, tourism ranks fifth after fuels, chemicals, food and automotive products and as a major source of foreign exchange and investment, tourism creates much-needed employment and business opportunities, it said.
Tourism’s unparalleled cross-cutting nature and multiple links to the other economic sectors, further positions it as an efficient multiplier in global development strategies and more and more developing countries embrace it to jumpstart their socio-economic development, according to the Madrid-based organization.
For over half of the world’s poorest countries, tourism is a priority instrument for poverty reduction but in spite of its proven potential, the UNWTO said, the value of tourism still needs to be better harnessed when it comes to the development agenda so that these countries benefit from the income and social opportunities provided by the sector.
It is, thus, critical to place tourism higher in the development agenda and ensure that the level of assistance matches the potential of the sector in contributing to development objectives, it added.
“I also traveled to Santiago de Compostela and met with relevant organizations involved in the preservation of historical monuments, the development of community-based tourism and the undertaking of a local entrepreneurship program through national and local government support,” Rosal said.
He is taking all those pointers from UNWTO experts as additional knowledge and reference in keeping the benefits of the local tourism industry spill over into the whole of the hometown economy and society, the mayor said.
As what the organization places it, he said, every tourist means more jobs and business opportunities in tourism and in related sectors, higher income for families, increased investment and more opportunities for grass roots development.
“Here in the city, we are now building stronger partnerships through tourism, considering that the bulk of the sector is made up of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), giving the private sector a key role in achieving development targets,” Rosal said.
Tourism offers immense opportunities to promote partnerships based on public-private cooperation models and cross-cutting public coordination and action, he said.
Rosal stressed that tourism means community development as the local jobs and business opportunities it opens help reduce rural-urban migration, while opening doors to the young and fostering gender equality through job opportunities.
The UNWTO experts, Rosal said, also made him understand that against the backdrop of the sheer size and reach of the tourism sector, small changes towards sustainable development can have significant global impacts, while reaching the very foundations of society, the sector being deeply rooted in local communities and a powerful instrument to empower them.
This key Bicol metropolis, known in the international travel industry world as the “City of Fun and Adventure”, got the attention of UNWTO when it hosted in March last year the organization’s triple meetings attended by around 500 international tourism industry dignitaries.
The meetings were for the 40th Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), Plus Three National Tourism Organizations; 26th Joint Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific (CAP); and the UNWTO Commission for South Asia (CSA) UNWTO-ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change. (PNA) CTB//FGS/DOC/CBD/PJN