Building back better towards recovery: Investing in culture and tourism for sustainable development

On July 7, UNESCO and the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the United Nations jointly organized the event “Recovering tourism for sustainable development: Safety, Resilience and Incentives”, on the sidelines of the 2021 High level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Representatives of governments, UN agencies and youth networks joined their voices in advocating for sustainable tourism in the aftermath of the sanitary crisis. They shared an overall assessment on the impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector, as well as good practices and lessons learned at the national level. Enhancing investment and international attention to the recovery of the tourism sector was highlighted unanimously in order to sustain global and national economies, supporting livelihoods and preserving and safeguarding cultural and natural heritage in line with the Sustainable Development Goals in the last Decade of action of the UN 2030 Agenda. Speakers underscored the transversality of the tourism sector and its interdependence on other policy areas, notably culture and the environment which mutually reinforce themselves in providing responses and adaptive strategies in the face of climate change. Mrs Curmira Gulston, a Youth Leader for Education for Sustainable Development, moderated the discussion to interject the youth perspective.

 

In his opening remarks, H.E. Mr Cristian Espinosa, Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations, voiced his country’s firm commitment to support the resilience of tourism, sustain creative industries, while ensuring continued protection of the natural environment and cultural assets of Ecuador. By stressing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism industry in Ecuador, Mrs. Ana Garcia, Vice-Minister of Tourism of Ecuador, shared immediate efforts and measures taken to mitigate the negative repercussions of the crisis such as the acceleration of the vaccination roll-out for travel and tourism workers, as well as the updating of the current law on sustainable tourism to sustain the country’s vision towards a post-pandemic sustainable tourism strategy.

 

Mrs Paola Leoncini Bartoli, Director for Cultural Policies and Development at UNESCO, underlined that culture and cultural tourism play a major role in global tourism, accounting for an estimated 40% of world tourism revenues, and by tapping into several culture-related productive areas that range from cultural heritage sites, to cultural and creative industries, cultural institutions, crafts, performing arts, gastronomy, design, festivals and fairs forming a large portfolio of to invest in cultural tourism.

 

“Cultural tourism can be a powerful catalyst for sustainable development. It can help foster the appreciation of the diversity of cultural heritage, valorize and stimulate local heritage, promote territorial cohesion and socioeconomic inclusion for the most vulnerable populations, and in many rural areas, sustain livelihoods through social and economic development, including for women”, Mrs Leoncini Bartoli pointed out.

 

Nonetheless, cultural tourism also raises challenges and concerns as unplanned tourism growth can trigger a range of negative impacts, including pressure on local communities, gentrification of urban areas, waste management issues, and global greenhouse gas emissions. To remedy this, UNESCO has launched several initiatives with the aim to promote cultural tourism, such as the UNESCO Sustainable Tourism Pledge (2019) and the Task Force on Culture and Resilient Tourism (2020). The Organization has also scaled up work in cultural tourism at field level, supporting its Member States and strengthening regional initiatives. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, UNESCO is working closely with Member States, regional bodies and the UN system to build on the momentum of the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, looking at greater diversification in cultural tourism models, backed by a stronger integration of the cultural sector into the broader economic and regional planning.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to experiment new models that are more adaptive and agile to shape more effective and sustainable alternatives for the future. We should look forward to incorporating tourism approaches that not only avoid damage but have a positive impact on the environment of tourism destinations and on the livelihoods of local communities. This is what we define as e regenerative tourism that deploys a holistic approach that measures tourism beyond its financial returns to encompass concerns of local communities, and the wellbeing of people and planet”, she concluded.

Ms. Cordula Wohlmuther, Coordinator, Sustainable Development of Tourism, UNWTO, underlined the fundamental role of tourism as an essential economic driver in many developing and developed countries. By presenting the latest report issued by UNWTO on travel restrictions in June 2021, she underscored that most UNWTO Panel Experts expect a rebound in international tourism by the third quarter of 2021 and a return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels not before 2023. Ms. Veronica Santamaria, Director of Public Use of the Galapagos National Park, gave a detailed presentation of the current touristic and sanitary situation in the Galapagos Marine Reserve; Ms. Gabriela Sommerfeld, Vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce of Quito, pointed out that, back in 2019, tourism was one of the 6 most important industries in Ecuador that generated employment in cities, islands and in the Ecuadorian side of the Amazonian rainforest. She also highlighted that the pandemic is providing the government with the opportunity to establish more sustainable partnerships with the private sector, with a particular focus on the development of the rural tourism sector.

 

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