Innovation and ideal directions for the future took centre stage at the 5th World Tourism Forum Lucerne. 

The 5th World Tourism Forum Lucerne has closed in a spirit of optimism at the end of the inspiring two-day event in the central Swiss city, attended by 500 participants connected with the international travel and tourism industry. The overriding opinion amongst participants is that whilst there are significant challenges to overcome, the industry is adapting to embrace a future full of opportunity.

The event again attracted top decision makers as well as up-and-coming tourism industry talents and elite students. During a packed two-day programme, participants debated the most pressing topics and the changes and challenges facing global tourism.

The eminent Forum began with the arresting sight of the large stage at the KKL Luzern congress centre becoming filled with the Young Talents, i.e. students from the partner universities, the Next Generation, i.e. talents in the tourism industries, and representatives of start-ups, which all had taken part in different Side Events the day before. This year, there is especially strong focus on encouraging the next generation and nurturing and retaining new talent.

Let us all remember what our core business must be, to make this world a better place

UNWTO Secretary General Addresses Forum

In his address, Taleb Rifai (Secretary-General UNWTO) said: “Let us all remember what our core business must be, to make this world a better place.”

Mr Rifai has expressed his sincere appreciation to David Scowsill, President and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) for the strong partnership between both organisations as he announced his departure after six years at the helm of WTTC (Mr Rifai also leaves the UNWTO this year). 

Over the last six years, UNWTO and WTTC have created a strong partnership, bringing public and private sector together to advance the tourism sector and addressing its most pressing priorities.

UNWTO and WTTC’s Open Letter on Travel and Tourism Initiative launched in 2011 garnered the support of over 80 Heads of State and Government from around the world. With this initiative, UNWTO and WTTC aim to promote the importance of the tourism sector in socio-economic inclusive development at the highest level.

“I could not have asked for a better partner. It has been a privilege to work alongside David to mainstream our sector in the global agenda and ensure public and private sector do work together for a better future” said Rifai.

“During his time at WTTC, David has showed unparalleled leadership and vision, championing public/private sector collaboration and promoting the sustainable growth of our sector. As founder and Chairman of the Global Travel Association Coalition (GTAC), an initiative to ensure the sector can speak with “One Voice” on the key issues such as safe and seamless travel or sustainability, David has united the sector like never before” he added.


UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai with Gérard Lefebvre – President & CEO – Cleverdis


In his keynote speech, Rasoul Jalali (General Manager Uber) explained how the Uber app, now used in 500 cities, has transformed urban travel. He presented the numerous innovations Uber has introduced, including shared taxi travel and the ability to ride on demand any time of day, and how Uber analyses the mass of data it accrues. Uber is also testing out driverless cars in Pittsburgh, U.S. “Driving by yourself may remain a recreational activity, but driving from A to B will not. Driverless cars will be the future.”

“Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges”, a discussion featuring a prominent panel including Simon Lehmann (President Phocuswright), Teo Ah Khing (Chairman Desert Star Holdings), Puneet Chhatwal (CEO Deutsche Hospitality) and Lina Annab (Minister for Tourism and Antiquities, Jordan) identified the key challenges for tourism, which include keeping up with the fast changes in technology, eradicating destination stereotypes and prejudices and getting people to understand the level of disruption upon us right now. Ways forward they suggested included realising a greater efficiency in analysing the vast array of data available to us now and creating a selection of options to prepare for the unprecedented level of change we see in these times.


There was much focus during the Forum about attracting and retaining talent. At an aviation CEO roundtable featuring Rob Gurney (CEO Oneworld), Paul Steele (Senior Vice President IATA), Nazim Samadov (Commercial and Marketing Director Azerbaijan Airlines) and Michael Kerkloh (President and CEO Munich Airport), the need to attract more women into the industry, a greater ethnicity pool at higher levels, and finding enough people in a time when the aviation industry is growing massively were discussed.

Bestselling author Jason Fox (Head of The Cleverness) conducted a World Café, where he invigorated debate by encouraging the room to form small diverse groups and connect and exchange ideas.

Amongst the impressive array of absorbing speakers on the second day was Ann Sherry (Executive Chairman Carnival Australia) with a keynote speech entitled ‘Cruise Industry: Hype or Strategy?’. Of course, the industry’s best laid plans are worth nothing if they can’t attract investment, and John Perrottet (Senior Tourism Specialist World Bank) illuminated the audience with new models for financing tourism development.

In his interview with Swiss TV presenter Urs Gredig, Jon Erni (Director Public Sector Microsoft) urged tourism companies to embrace the growing number of online tools to find and retain customers, and to welcome a disruption of the existing tourism model.

The secrets of how Switzerland stays relevant in an ever-competitive marketplace were unveiled in an absorbing talk by Jürg Schmid (CEO Switzerland Tourism), while the tourism challenges of another small country, St Lucia, were explained by no other than the country’s Prime Minister, Allan Chastanet.

This year saw the first-ever Start-up Innovation Camp, and in total 170 young companies from 50 countries submitted their business models. Over the two days of the Forum, representatives from the four most promising companies pitched their projects, including Paras Loomba of Global Himalayan Expedition, India, and Netherlander Michael Ros. The latter presented a humorous bid to usurp hotel booking giants like and with his member-based Bidroom, which charges no commission to hotels. The four companies were honoured with the “Start-Up Innovation Award 2017” endowed with prize money of CHF 20,000, and will receive professional coaching over the next two years.

“500 participants from 75 countries this year – isn’t that fantastic?”, said Martin Barth (President & CEO World Tourism Forum Lucerne). “Our growing number of participants coupled with the highest level of debate from so many key players in the industry, and our increasing international recognition in the travel industry’s calendar, underlines that each time the Forum is held it very much goes from strength to strength.”

The packed itinerary also included a panel discussion on creating a common understanding of sustainable development, a series of workshops, and the presentation of the Tourism Star Awards, honouring three international personalities from Rwanda, Iraq and Mexico whose passionate commitment and enthusiasm have a positive impact on the tourism industry.