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World Tourism Organization pushes for greater focus on importance of tourism

Travel News Asia 17 December 2003

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 Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) Francesco Frangialli said recently, before the talks on trade liberalization will resume in the framework of the Doha Development Round, after they had failed in Cancun.

World Trade Organization (WTO-OMC) General Council Chairman Mr. Carlos Prez del Castillo, at an informal Heads of Delegations meeting on 9 December 2003, reported progress in consultations with members for relaunching negotiations but gaps remain wide among positions. WTO-OMC Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi urged members to keep working with a sense of urgency and engagement.

With tourism receipts worldwide reaching some 605 billion euros in 2002 - including air transport - the industry constitutes one of the biggest categories of international trade at 7.5 per cent of total volume. Not counting air transport, it still generates some 500 billion euros, placing it on a similar footing to oil and automobile exports.

Removing the remaining trade barriers in tourism, a sector which is already largely liberalized, 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 Organization said it hopes that the upcoming 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 liberalization," explained Mr. Frangialli.

WTO has presented its new trade initiative called "liberalization with a human face" at the last 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 penalizing many destinations" -- with policies which respect the rights of peoples in the destination countries.

"In Cancun, our initiative drew real interest but had limited resonance due to the charged atmosphere at a meeting dominated by special interests and heightened wariness," said Mr Frangialli. "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, World Tourism Organization (WTO) Special Advisor Geoffrey Lipman told the recent Commonwealth Business Council meeting in Abuja, Nigeria.

"States and trade negotiators," he added, "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."

Pointing 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, added Mr. Lipman. 

"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 all of 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."

Lipman highlighted two other trade related priorities for the WTO. 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," said Mr Lipman. "The challenge is to do so in a way, which maximizes protection of travellers and minimizes 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 World Tourism Organization is studying with the International Civil Aviation Organization the possibilities of applying the same support principles used in the developed markets of the US and the EU to services too and from developing countries.

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