The latest World Tourism Organisation Ministers’ Summit Tourism underlines fact that protests are a ‘wake-up call’

Over 60 ministers of tourism and private sector leaders gathered on 7 November in London for the UNWTO / WTM Ministers’ Summit on ‘overtourism’. Moderated by CNN International’s Max Foster, the Summit concluded on the need for the tourism sector to engage more and better with local communities.

Community engagement, communication, congestion management, adequate planning and product diversification were highlighted as key aspects in dealing with ‘overtourism’.

Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said opening the Summit: “growth is not the enemy; numbers are not the enemy; the key is to manage the growth sustainably, responsibly and intelligently and use the power of growth to our advantage”.

“We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities. Jobs and charity are not enough – we need to diversify visitors’ activities, reduce seasonality and raise awareness of less busy destinations” he added.

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Outgoing UNWTO Secretary General, Taleb Rifai at the London Summit

Participants agreed on the need to build awareness among communities of the benefits of the sector, improve the use of big data to measure and manage the impact of tourists and tourist flows, and promote the development of tourism experiences that engage and benefit communities directly.

The emergence of new platform tourism services, or the so called sharing-economy, was discussed at length, with participants recognizing that they will continue to expand and need to be understood and managed by destinations on a case-by-case basis.

Speakers in the Summit included:

  • H.E. Mr. Mauricio Ventura Aragón, Minister of Tourism, Costa Rica
  • H.E. Ms. Elena Kountoura, Minister of Tourism, Greece
  • Mr. Ryoichi Matsuyama, President, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)
  • H.E. Mr. Mohamed Sajid, Minister of Tourism, Air Transport, Handicraft and Social Economy, Morocco
  • H.E. Mr. Enrique de la Madrid, Secretary of Tourism, Mexico
  • H.E. Mr. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), United Arab Emirates
  • H.E. Mr. John Glen, Minister of Arts Heritage and Tourism, United Kingdom
  • Mr. Istvan Ujhelyi, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, European Parliament
  • Ms. Gloria Guevara, President and CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)
  • Mr. Patrick Robinson, Head of Policy for EMEA, Airbnb
  • Ms. Inge Huijbrechts, Vice-President, Responsible Business, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group
  • Ms. Kate Gibson, Vice-President, Global Corporate Responsibility, Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)
  • Mr. Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, Chairman, Silversea Cruises

Mr Rifai said there have been many protests against overtourism in 2017, with slogans such as “tourists go home” and “tourists are terrorists”, adding, “This is a wake-up call; we have to make decisions now. We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities. Jobs and charity are not enough – we need to diversify visitors’ activities, reduce seasonality and raise awareness of less busy destinations.”

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Destinations such as Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam were highlighted as having the worst overcrowding, and Airbnb is seen by many as contributing to the problem.

However, Patrick Robinson, Head of Policy for EMEA at Airbnb, defended the company, saying 69% of its hosts in Amsterdam are not in the city centre.
“People spend money locally if they stay locally,” he told the summit. “Policies need to be different in different places, as needs are all different.”

Gloria Guevara, President and Chief Executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), said it was important to highlight the benefits of tourism to local communities.
She said Barcelona, for example, used to have a high crime rate and unemployment before the development of tourism, and Miami is a great model to follow as it has developed effective policies to deal with cruise passengers.

Silversea Cruises’ Chairman, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, defended his company’s role in Venice, saying cruise lines bring valuable tourists without the need to build new hotels – and they were more beneficial than day-trippers who arrived by car with their own sandwiches.
He pointed to the Galapagos Islands as the best destination for dealing with overtourism, as it has strict limits on cruise passengers.

Rifai said cruise lines could benefit their ports of call if they offered vouchers to passengers which could be exchanged for meals in local restaurants or visits to attractions.

The UK’s tourism minister, John Glen, said: “We need to get the infrastructure right, and share data and solutions. It’s about diversifying options, and highlighting other options and make them readily available through technology.”

Other solutions were highlighted, such as Greece developing tourism in the winter months; Costa Rica measuring social development in tourism destinations ; and Mexico spreading the word about its “magic towns” to highlight lesser-known cultural sites.

Hoteliers from Intercontinental Hotels Group and Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group said their responsible tourism policies can help counter negative perceptions – such as training locals in hospitality skills. However, the hotel industry is deeply concerned about the lack of regulation with likes of Airbnb and called for a more level playing field.