Taleb Rifai reflects on his tenure as Secretary-General of UNWTO

Taleb Rifai reflects on his tenure as Secretary-General of UNWTO

2017 was the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Taleb Rifai’s tenure of office as Secretary General of UNWTO closed at the turn of the year and I asked Taleb four questions.

Last year at WTM you reminded us that our core business is to make the world a better place, what examples of this have stood out for you in the last year?

Taleb argued that it is about small stories, big initiatives and visions.

You and I share the view that we need to see much more transparent reporting of the positive and negative impacts of tourism – why do you think that it is so important?

Every human activity has a dark side. We must measure the negative impacts so that we can manage them.

While you have been S-G we have seen much more emphasis on the two “Rs” of Respect and Responsibility – why are these two concepts so important to you?

Without respect, you cannot have a healthy travel and tourism activity – respect gives meaning to the visit. Responsibility is about contributing to making the place you visit better. It is these two Rs which create sustainable and healthy tourism.

One of the biggest challenges for tourism is the carbon agenda – are you optimistic about that?

Mankind has made many mistakes, but I am absolutely confident that more and more people accept that we have caused climate change – we need to work hard and take a leadership role in reducing emissions from our sector.

Looking back over your time as S-G what do you see as the biggest successes of UNWTO?

The biggest achievement has been the recognition of the importance of the sector. It is now seen as more than just having a big party. What matters is tourism’s contribution to employment, conservation and natural heritage. Tourism is now respected as an important economic sector.

What do you see as the biggest challenges the UNWTO faces over the next five years?

The UNWTO has established its leadership role and the importance of travel and tourism as a major  economic sector. The biggest challenge will be to maintain UNWTO’s leadership role and the recognition of the importance of the travel and tourism sector.

“UNWTO launched the Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Programme as a legacy of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017. The Programme advocates the contribution of sustainable tourism via the 17 SDGs, and encourages the full integration of tourism and the SDGs in national, regional and global agendas. It includes the future ‘Tourism and SDGs’ online platform – a co-creation space to inspire and empower the tourism sector to act  – developed by UNWTO with the support of SECO and an Ambassadors Initiative.”

Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili was elected at the 22nd Session of UNWTO General Assembly as Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and he took up the post on 1st January. It will be during his tenure as Secretary-General that the UNWTO will be challenged to demonstrate tourism’s contribution to the SDGs.

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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