Governments around the world should follow the Chinese approach to tourism, according to the UNWTO Ministers Summit at World Travel Market (WTM).
Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said: “China is seeing the benefits from giving tourism a very high priority within government. It is an example other countries should try to follow.”
More than 150 tourism ministers and aides attended the summit.
Among the most prominent was Qiwei Shao, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, who argued the Chinese government started to listen when he was able to show that 109 other sectors were involved in tourism.
Some 15 million people are employed directly in tourism, with another 85 million indirectly employed.
However, the importance of tourism generally varies across the globe.
John Penrose, minister of tourism in the UK pointing out that he is the first dedicated tourism minister the UK has had; Italy and Argentina have both upgraded the importance of tourism within the structure of their government.
Mexico’s tourism minister, Gloria Guevara, said tourism was a priority for the country, which wanted to become one of the world’s top five destinations.
It is already in the top ten.
One way in which ministers can make their government colleagues listen is to rethink the data used to make the economic case for tourism.
Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, minister of tourism and aviation for the Bahamas, said that the key metric should be economic value not only arrivals.
The role of the private sector in this is pivotal, ministers insisted, although competitive concerns and the fragmented nature of the sector often prevent companies from working together.
Air Passenger Duty
Taxation was another recurring theme. The UK’s controversial Air Departure Tax (APD) was blamed for prompting other countries – Germany and Austria to introduce a similar measure shortly.
Christopher Brown from Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) in Australia warned that governments “could drown small island nations in a sea of taxes before the tidal waves arrive”.