Tourism Growth Set to Slow this Year, UN Tourism Chief Warns

PRAGUE ~ Tourism will continue to grow this year albeit at a slower pace faced with the worldwide economic downturn, the general secretary of the World Tourism Organisation, the UN’s special agency for the sector, said in Prague.

“Even if economic growth is lower and the US economy is on the brink of a recession, in spite of oil prices at around 120 dollars a barrel, tourism will grow in 2008,” Francesco Frangialli said at a news conference to mark a two-day meeting of its 45-strong European regional organization.

“It (growth) will not be more than 6 percent like last year, but it will still be on the positive side,” he said. “To travel and enjoy leisure is now a fundamental thing for people in developed countries,” he added.

One of the main issues for the meeting, which is due to conclude on Friday, is to consider ways of making tourism growth more sustainable given the fact that it accounts for an estimated 5.0 percent of the worldwide production of greenhouse gases, which are blamed for global warming.

“Tourism is a contributor to global warming but is also a victim. We see that for winter sports and skiing at mid-altitudes, we see that on the Mediterranean coast because of lack of water and see it in biodiviersity,” Frangialli explained.

He highlighted the massive growth in Chinese tourism expected over the next decade. “Last year 40 million Chinese travelled outside China… From our surveys, that 40 million will be 100 million by 2020,” he said.

Worldwide, the 898 million tourist trips taken last year, a rise of 6.1 percent on 2006, will rise to 1.1 billion by 2010 and almost double to 1.6 billion by 2020, according to UN WTO forecasts.

Countries like the Czech Republic, for which the US now figures as the only non-European country in its top 10 of visitors, face a great challenge to plug into the Chinese market, as well as the fast expanding tourist markets of South-East Asia and the Gulf region, Frangialli warned.

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