Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders at the UNWTO & WTM Ministers’ Summit also urged tourism ministers from around the world to collaborate with businesses to help countryside communities.
The topic of the annual summit was ‘Technology for Rural Development’, and it aimed to lay the groundwork for further work in 2020, when ‘Rural Development and Tourism’ will be the theme for World Tourism Day 2020 on 27th September.
Diana Muñoz-Mendez, Senior VP, Global Tourism Partnerships at Mastercard, said the payments company is helping small rural businesses – farms, shops and restaurants – to take money digitally rather than use cash, as most travellers now pay by card.
Ann Don Bosco, Head of Grow at Google, said the tech giant has trained 120,000 people in rural Greek hotels to make the most of technology, and is looking to expand the initiative in Japan and Kenya.
Another scheme for farmers – this time in Turkey – was highlighted by Debbie Hindle, Managing Director at Four Travel, who said: “Rural tourism is not just about the tourists – the Taste of Fethiye initiative from the Travel Foundation encouraged farmers to produce food for local hotels, and tell tourists about it.
He said a network of heritage towns in rural Colombia helped improve the experience for travellers and spread the income from tourism beyond the usual attractions and cities. Gary Stewart, Director of business accelerator Wayra UK, highlighted destinations such as Sweden and Israel as good examples of places that are attractive to investors.
Ahmad al-Khatib, Chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, told the summit that Saudi Arabia has ambitious aims to develop tourism – but it also wants to preserve its unique rural heritage and traditions.
“For example, Airbnb hosts can offer a welcome in rural areas where there are not yet hotels,” he told ministers.
“You can stay with a family and see how they eat and dress.”
She invited tourism ministers from Yemen, Guatemala, Panama, Albania, Bolivia, Colombia, Sierra Leone and Portugal to talk about the importance of rural development to help support tourism and national economies.
Examples of good practice ranged from mobile technology in Sierra Leone, to tax incentives for Colombian hotels, Wi-Fi initiatives in Portugal, sugar cane and cocoa products in Guatemala, and painted hats in Panama.