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From mapping the big data to investing in sustainable projects, making tourism ready for the future

Tourism is now at the heart of the global conversation of economic and social recovery action plans

Madrid, January 05, 2022


2021 has been another challenging year for our societies, our economies and tourism. Many millions of jobs and businesses remain in peril, at the mercy of an evolving crisis and of the actions of governments. However, we are by no means in the same place we were when the pandemic was declared in March 2020. In fact, we have succeeded in laying the foundations to restart tourism around the pillars of sustainability, innovation, people and investing for a resilient future.

Over the past year, much progress has been made in rolling out vaccinations and in both detecting and treating Covid-19. We have also seen significant progress made in finding the right balance between keeping people safe and keeping the vital lifeline of tourism intact since the very start of the pandemic. A collaborative and multilateral approach is and must remain at the centre of capitalising on the lessons we have learned in such a short span of time.

Investing in the future

"Ensuring harmonised travel protocols has been our message since day one. They are at the heart of tourism’s restart in many parts of the world, most notably in the Northern Hemisphere destinations during the peak summer months. We are also encouraged by the resilience and determination coming from the tourism sector itself, as well as from the member states of UNWTO. Restarting tourism is unthinkable without green investments. We are collaborating with institutions such as the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank. To date, more than 200 investors are part of UNWTO’s global investment network advancing critical work such as supporting hotel chains from 50 countries to become more sustainable," commented Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO.

Tourism is ready to do the hard work and live up to its responsibilities to people and the planet, as demonstrated by the huge interest received in the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, launched at the UN Climate Summit COP26. A growing number of commitments was received to halve the emissions by 2030 and to reach NetZero by 2050 at the latest, with member countries, individual destinations, global companies and local players as well as media outlets, with hundreds on board, and counting.

Measuring Sustainability of Tourism

Government policymakers, statisticians and relevant stakeholders from across Asia and the Pacific region recently came together for a special workshop focused on Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism (MST) organised by UNWTO in collaboration with the Department of Tourism of the Philippines and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea. To further enrich cross-country and interregional learning, guest speakers coming from all over the world underscored the importance of implementing the MST Statistical Framework not only for informing national policy and subnational tourism management but also to ensure aligned action and monitor progress towards regional and global policy ambitions such as climate action and the Paris Agreement, circular economy, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the SAMOA Pathway, the Convention on Biological Diversity and others.

The discussion provided a platform to review the MST Statistical Framework and its main concepts, definitions, and tables for producing credible and comparable data on tourism sustainability. Participants discussed the value of a flexible implementation of MST based on priorities and circumstances, the best strategies for strengthening data capture capabilities and making the most of available data, and the importance of engaging stakeholders across the board. Other elements raised for successful implementation included a shared communication strategy, education not only in the production of data but also its use, and drawing up a commonly agreed roadmap. The workshop brought together more than 80 key virtual participants from national tourism authorities and national statistical offices in Asia and the Pacific.

Big Data for Better Tourism

UNWTO and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have recently released a joint report on the use of big data for better tourism planning and management. The report features examples from across Asia and the Pacific region while also showcasing the main trends in the use of big data in tourism at the forefront of technology and innovation. The report also makes clear the role that big data can play in recovery and the measurement of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of tourism.
Tourism suffered the greatest crisis on record in 2020. International arrivals plunged by 73 per cent in 2020. This is likely to follow by a 70 per cent and 75 per cent fall on 2019 levels for 2021. As the sector looks to recover, data and market intelligence are critical to empowering destinations, businesses, and tourism workers to be better prepared in a rapidly changing landscape. The Covid-19 pandemic has also accelerated the shift toward digitalisation and so further highlighted the need for relevant and reliable data and intelligence to manage tourism.

The new report will assist both governments and the private sector as they look to complement official statistics with big data so as to better understand changes in consumer behaviour and to enhance recovery with targeted products, segments, and source markets. Big data will also be key to supporting seamless travel through the implementation of safety protocols, biosecurity technologies, and digital health certificates to enable the safe reopening of borders.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recently clarified that the aircraft cabin remains a very low-risk environment for contracting Covid-19 even though Omicron appears to be more transmissible than other variants in all environments. "The factors that contribute to the very low risks include aircraft design characteristics (direction of airflow, rate of air exchange and filtration), the forward orientation of passengers while seated, well-enforced masking, and enhanced sanitary measures. The controlled nature of the aircraft cabin compared to other enclosed environments adds a further measure of protection," noted Dr David Powell, Medical Advisor, IATA.

The UNWTO-ADB report further addresses some of the key challenges standing in the way of fully realising the potential of big data and digitalisation for better tourism policy. These include ongoing concerns over privacy, skills gaps, data reliability, inadequate governance and infrastructure, the digital divide, accessibility barriers. These challenges make clear the need for comprehensive agenda to pave the way for the effective use of big data to assist tourism recovery and its transformation toward a greener, more resilient sector.

The way in which the pandemic has developed over the closing weeks of the year gives us all reason for concern and to again put public health above everything else. But recent developments again validate a logical position: the only way forward is through collaboration and actions that are based on evidence rather than on speculation or political strategy.

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