World Tourism Day: A Focus on Rural Destinations

World Tourism Day
Popular tourist landmarks like the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China have seen themselves almost vacant during the country’s lockdown

Travelling is an essential part of life. It allows you to explore places that you would never have been exposed to otherwise, meeting people of different backgrounds and lifestyles. Celebrated last Sunday on the 27th of September, the annual World Tourism Day serves to commemorate the travel industry’s importance in promoting and preserving the cultures and heritages of different countries.

Accounting for ten percent of jobs globally based on data from the United Nations (UN), the livelihood of millions of people are also dependent on the tourism industry. But this fast-growing sector was brought to a near standstill earlier this year. With borders slammed shut to travellers and pandemic-forced lockdowns placed worldwide, the industry has been left to bear the economic brunt of the novel coronavirus. This year’s World Tourism Day comes at a crucial time as countries attempt to get back on their feet, looking at alternative ways to revive their tourism sectors. 

The History of World Tourism Day

The Statues of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) were adopted on the 27th of September 1970. World Tourism Day was thus chosen to coincide with this important milestone in global tourism.

In 1997, during the Twelfth UNWTO General Assembly session in Istanbul, Turkey, it was decided that each year, a host country was to be appointed as the organisation’s partner in the celebration of World Tourism Day. But for the first time since its inception 40 years ago, the official celebration of World Tourism Day will not be hosted by a single member state of the UN Specialised Agencies. To embody the spirit of international unity, countries from the MERCOSUR bloc, which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and joined by member associate Chile, will be the joint hosts for this year’s event. 

Tourism and Rural Development

The benefits of the tourism industry range far and wide, including greater employment and gender opportunities. But numerous countries have found these to be concentrated only in urban and coastal areas. Hence, to promote tourism beyond these regions, the theme for this year’s World Tourism Day was set to be “Tourism and Rural Development.” 

Boosting tourism in rural areas distributes the benefits of the industry more evenly across regions and populations. Simultaneously, it alleviates the risks that come with the concentration of tourism in specific locations, such as overcrowding and pressures on natural and cultural resources.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism in rural territories has become more critical than ever. A myriad of opportunities for economic recovery can occur as more people gravitate towards these less populated destinations. Furthermore, being less prepared in handling the economic and social impacts of the pandemic, it is also vital to support rural communities through this crisis.

“Tourism helps rural communities hold on to their unique natural and cultural heritage, supporting conservation projects, including those safeguarding endangered species, lost traditions or flavours,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, the UNWTO Secretary-General.

To achieve sustainability of tourism in rural areas, a multi-pronged approach involving comprehensive planning and diverse stakeholders is necessary. The UNWTO Recommendations on Tourism and Rural Development was drafted with the aim to support governments, private sectors and the international community to do so. As outlined by the UNWTO, this includes:

  • Placing tourism as a strategic pillar in policies for rural development
  • Building a fair and inclusive, resilient and sustainable sector
  • New opportunities for tourism and rural development through innovation, technology and digitalisation
  • Product development and value chain integration for sustainable and enhanced travel experience
  • Fostering sustainable policies and practices in rural destinations

The lack of travel opportunities this year has left people more eager than ever before to fly out of their home countries. But being cooped in our houses for the better part of the year has presented us with opportunities to rethink the sustainability of tourism and where we come into play. As travel restrictions are slowly lifted, here’s an idea – travel to a less-visited destination for a change!

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