‘Tourism against Poverty’ Spotlighted at Madrid Trade Fair

MADRID ~ Spain’s King Juan Carlos opened the FITUR tourist trade fair last week, one of the world’s largest, with a plea to thousands of industry professionals to use tourism to help eradicate poverty.

“Tourism is a driver of understanding between peoples. It is an effective instrument with which to eradicate poverty and to improve the legitimate aspirations and well-being of citizens,” he said in an inaugural speech.

The 28th annual FITUR in Madrid hosted 13,300 companies from 170 countries who were seeking the business of around 250,000 visitors, some 150,000 of them professionals, before the event closed on Sunday.

The UN World Tourism Organisation prefaced the event by announcing that developing nations drove up global tourism arrivals by 6.2 percent last year to a record of almost 900 million.

UNWTO Secretary General Francesco Frangialli said the figures demonstrated “tourism’s potential for the developing world.”

The head of the African Travel and Tourism Association, Nigel Vere Nicoll, underscored this.

“Every 10 tourists to Africa creates one job, and one job feeds about 10 people,” he told AFP Wednesday.

New participants at FITUR this year were Bhutan, Greenland, Madagascar and the west African archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe. Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe and Niger have returned for a second year.

Exhibitors from the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas and Africa are up by 18, 17 and 14 percent respectively, reflecting “the growth of the international dimension of the fair,” FITUR said.

The head of Bhutan’s tourism department, Lhatu Wangchuk, said the isolated Himalayan kingdom decided to make its debut at the fair after developing its tourist infrastructure.

“We are here because our capacity to receive more tourists is improving, so we need to get into promotion, but in a subdued way,” he said.

“Foreign-exchange revenue and employment are important to us,” he said, adding that tourism was currently the country’s fourth-biggest earner, but expected to be the second within five years.

“We are looking for tourists at the high-end of the market in Europe, the US and Japan,” he said.

Spain had the largest number of exhibitors, and this year was promoting the Expo Zaragosa 2008 international exhibition. South Africa focused on its staging of the 2010 football World Cup.

Among the special promotions were the New Seven Wonders of the World: the city of Petra in Jordan, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal in India, the Coliseum in Rome, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Macchu Pichu in Peru and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

FITUR “is a trade fair which for the past three decades has reflected the realities of the industry, has been a step ahead of the changes and has brought about innovative responses,” Juan Carlos said.

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