World Tourism Day, an annual occasion celebrated on the 27th of September every year, takes on new significance in 2020 as the world grapples with unprecedented times. Countries around the world are working towards driving recovery within the tourism industry. This year, the theme for the international day of observation is “Tourism and Rural Development” to shine a light on rural communities where the tourist sector is a leading employer and an economic pillar.
In the 40-year history of World Tourism Day, this year the official celebration will not be hosted by a single Member State of the United Nations specialized agency for the first time. Instead, nations from the MERCOSUR Member States (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Chile joining as Member Associate status) will be joint hosts. The co-hosting agreement is an expression of international solidarity which the UNWTO believes is key to recovery during the pandemic.
Rural communities need tourism more than ever in the face of the pandemic
Rural communities around the world are dependent on tourism for employment and a host of other opportunities. The development of the tourism sector will help rural communities flourish. It is estimated that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ live outside of towns and cities. The youth in rural communities are in distress as they are three times more likely to be unemployed than older adults. With jobs in tourism, younger people have the opportunity to earn a living and move to different places in search of a better life. As the pandemic has led to widespread employment and salary cuts, the revival of the tourism industry is of utmost importance. Rural communities are also much less-prepared to deal with the short and longer-term impacts of the crisis. Tourism offers a solution to many of these obstacles.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “All around the world, tourism empowers rural communities, providing jobs and opportunity, most notably for women and youth. Tourism also enables rural communities to hold onto their unique cultural heritage and traditions, and the sector is vital for safeguarding habitat and endangered species. This World Tourism Day is a chance to recognize the role tourism plays outside of major cities and its ability to build a better future for all.”
The pandemic has also come in the way of conservation efforts, putting them in jeopardy. The sudden fall in tourism revenues has eliminated funding for biodiversity conservation. Additionally, 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. Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres says “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”.