Madrid, 21 March 2003 - International tourism is resilient enough to recuperate relatively quickly if the war in Iraq is not drawn out, says World Tourism Organization (WTO) Secretary-General Mr Francesco Frangialli. “If the conflict remains short and contained, it is not out of the question for recovery to come during the second half of the year,” he says in a letter sent to the WTO Members yesterday.
The uncertainty caused by the build up to the war has already had a negative impact by fuelling fear, discouraging bookings and delaying investment plans. “We would have preferred something other than the worst possible solution - war. But there are two powerful reasons to remain reasonably hopeful for the recovery of tourism.” As an industry which ensures stability and promotes recovery, tourism has never suffered a deep and lasting recession, he says. “Tourism has always bounced back and has always done so quickly.”
“Secondly, tourism has always come out of turbulent times in much better shape than it has gone into them.” The economic and financial crises in Asia-Pacific and Russia in 1997-1998 were clear examples. “These destinations came out of the recession stronger and more firmly on the road to sustainable development.”
Mr Frangialli says the performance of the industry in recent months has confirmed WTO`s previous market analyses. “The need to travel, whether for business or leisure, is too deeply ingrained in our societies to be easily effaced.”
Similar signs of consumer confidence were demonstrated following the conflicts in the Balkans and the 1991 Gulf War. In 1991, the industry still achieved 1.2 per cent growth, followed by a spectacular 8.3 per cent jump in 1992.
WTO research has shown that the adjustment period to such crises is accelerating changes in consumer habits and transforming the fabric of the industry, encouraging the creation of new operators such as low cost airlines.
“It has led to restructuring and regrouping, the implementation of new technologies, the modernization of marketing techniques, the strengthening of co-operation between the private and public sectors, to the benefit of all involved.
“Since 11 September, 2001, we have been experiencing the most serious crisis in the history of world tourism,” he says. But despite attacks in Djerba, Bali, and Mombassa against foreign visitors “tourism has not collapsed as some were quick to predict.” In 2001, the number of international tourist arrivals fell by just 0.5 per cent, and in 2002 they grew 3 per cent to 715 million, at a time when travel was also affected by an adverse world economy.
“Tourism`s performance last year was much better than everyone expected, once again demonstrating our industry`s resilience.”
One positive factor to emerge is that the “the eyes of many have been opened to the economic importance of tourism, helping gain the sector worldwide recognition.” International tourism is one of the world`s top export categories, with receipts in 2001 of 464 billion dollars.
In an effort to help member countries, WTO will be paying particular attention in coming weeks to those affected by terrorist acts, and those regions most vulnerable to a downturn in tourism: the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.
“During this difficult period for the Arab-Muslim world it is important to be able to use tourism, as many of its governments wish to do, as an instrument of openness and as a channel of communication with the rest of the international community,” says Mr Frangialli.