World Tourism Chiefs in Dubai as Industry Bucks Economic Trend

Global tourism leaders gathered in Dubai this week to plot future strategy for an industry which, despite a slight downward revision of annual growth estimates, is easily bucking present economic trends.

When some 1,000 delegates gathered for the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) summit in the jewel of the United Arab Emirates – a perfect symbol for the sector’s transformative power – talk was likely to focus on ensuring adequate infrastructure for future growth and mitigating tourism’s environmental impact.

Airlines, tour operators and hotel chains were joined by around 40 government ministers as the WTTC – which began as a select club in 1990 by the chiefs of Amex, Accor, British Airways and American Airlines – comes truly of age.

WTTC projections show tourism will this year generate 5.3 trillion euros (US$8.4 trillion) in revenue despite the revised growth projection of three percent compared to 3.9 percent in 2007.

That represents almost 10 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), providing employment for 238 million people worldwide.

And all this despite the global credit crunch, the specter of recession in the United States, surging oil and food prices and worries over climate change, each of which have played their part in trimming initial growth projections of 4.6 percent.

“Over the next 10 years, we will see an explosion in activity throughout our sector,” the president of this London-based organization, Jean-Paul Baumgarten, said. “It’s up to us to see this industry develop responsibly,” he added.

By 2018, the WTTC expects annual tourism expenditure to rise by an average of 4.4 percent.

Baumgarten cites a tourism “boom” fuelled by emerging economic powerhouses in China, India, Russia and the Middle East, although he recognizes the sector faces its challenges, not least the carbon footprint left by the ongoing exponential growth in air travel.

“We are part of the problem because our industry is responsible for between 11 and 12 percent of (all) CO2 emissions, but we are also part of the solution,” he added, with an eye on one of the major themes of the Dubai conference.

Another major issue up for discussion was the eternal question of how to develop national tourist infrastructures in line with demand, with Baumgarten speaking of “great concern” within his body at the “lack of planning (shown) by the majority of governments around the world.”

Dubai, he said, offered an example to all, with the UAE government “turning a desert into a destination,” he added.

Difficulties in recruitment within different branches of the industry could also put the brakes on its growth, with Baumgarten saying that the two giants of the sector, the United States and China, are suffering from a shortage of qualified staff.

However, the WTTC’s growing strength – it now numbers some 100

Influential members – means its lobbying power has risen considerably.

The turning-point in that process can be traced back to the September 11 attacks in 2001, said.

“Governments the world over realized then the enormous impact tourism has on the economy and started listening to us,” Baumgarten said.

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