Tourism must be part of trade talks for the benefit of poor countries

Tourism needs to be put firmly on the agenda of current international trade talks as a means to creating jobs and boosting the income of the world’s poorer nations.

The revolutionary growth of air travel since 1950s is a major factor in the development of tourism industry. Air travel has now become wide spread and easy. So, people of different countries with disposable income, are coming out in large number to see the world.
According to estimate of UNWTO tourism has registered an annual growth of 6.5 per cent between 1950 and 2007. The number of international arrivals in 2007 reached 898 million. The number would increase to 1.6 billion in 2020, according to forecast. The growth in Africa, Asia Pacific and the Middle East would be more than the world average–5.9 per cent, 5.7 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively.

It is expected that in current 2008 world travel and tourism will generate an income of 8 trillion US dollars. In next 10 years the size of income would increase to 15 trillion US dollars. In addition to this, by 2018 tourism industry would provide employment to 297 million people and contribute 10.5 per cent to global GDP.

The income that is generating from current global tourism boom is providing opportunity for increasing national income. And most of the countries of the world irrespective of their level of economic development are active in drawing benefit out of it. Industralised countries in Europe and America as well as conservative Muslim countries in Middle East are among them.

Removing the remaining trade barriers in tourism, a sector which is already largely liberalised, would clear the way for considerable progress, making it possible to create more jobs throughout the industry in both tourist-generating and destination countries.
The World Tourism Organisa-tion wishes that trade discussions do not neglect tourism.

The poorest countries would benefit most from the expansion of North-South flows. But developed countries would not lose anything either because their enterprises will benefit from the increased trade resulting from greater liberalisation.

WTO has presented its new trade initiative called “liberalisation with a human face” at the meeting of the Doha Development Round in Cancun. This links the elimination of the remaining trade barriers – many of which do not involve tariffs and include measures such as “travel advisories which certain governments abuse, thus unfairly penalising many destinations” — with policies which respect the rights of peoples in the destination countries.

In Cancun, UNWTO initiative drew real interest but had limited resonance due to the charged atmosphere at a meeting dominated by special interests and heightened wariness. It is somewhat disconcerting to compare the amount of time and energy dedicated to agricultural negotiations, which the conference was unable to unblock, to the complete lack of attention given until now to tourism exchanges.

Although tourism is covered in principle by the General Agreement on Trade in Services of 1994, it seems to have been forgotten that tourism receipts represent a larger volume of world trade than agricultural food exports.

Tourism is poised to be one of the most decisive factors for promoting trade with developing nations and helping to reduce poverty, but to achieve this it needs to be given greater recognition.

States and trade negotiators must understand tourism’s potential as a services export. They must understand why tourism could be one of the most decisive factors in achieving the goals of development and sustainability in the global trading system and of poverty reduction.
In addition to tourism’s ability to catalyse wealth, investment and jobs in the economies of poorer countries, it also serves to stimulate infrastructure for transport and encourages improvements in hygiene and sanitation in these countries.

With the global focus on poverty alleviation the importance of this development factor cannot be overstated. The tourism growth of poorer countries is higher than industrialised states, and the one commodity that the world’s poorest countries share is their nature, climate, heritage and tradition – the very areas that tomorrow’s eco-conscious tourists will be seeking.

In this regard two other trade related priorities must be highlighted. First to mitigate the adverse economic impact of blanket travel advisories which “can instantly destroy markets and undermine visitor and investor confidence. There can be no question of the vital need for nations to protect their citizens against perceived dangers. The challenge is to do so in a way, which maximises protection of travellers and minimises adverse impacts on trade, development and poverty reduction in destinations.

Second is the pivotal question of increasing air services to the world’s poorest countries and of reducing the costs from tourism originating markets. Even the most perfect beach or game park is a wasting asset if the tourist can’t get there at reasonable prices and with frequent service.
The UNWTO is studying with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) the possibilities of applying the same support principles used in the developed markets to services too and from developing countries. By Raquib Siddiqi

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