Global Tourism Forum Andorra

I had the opportunity to attend the Global Tourism Forum (GTF) in Andorra on Monday this week. Approximately 200 representatives, leaders of global players in the tourism industry, politicians and lobbyist where attending that event, organized by UNWTO.
The forum was hosted by the government of Andorra, sponsored by Visa, Andorra Telecom, Feda, the Andorra energy supplier and the media partner was CNN.

The motto of this event was “Building New Models for Tourism Growth, Competitiveness & Responsibility“ and I was curious to go there as I expected some inspiration for our places2b project which is focused on the development of sustainable structures for local based tourism.
I have to admit, I got some doubts after getting the invitation from the General Secretary

be a good tourist, spend your money here at this wonderful place.

The wonderful place Andorra is situated in the Pyrenées and lives on building, banking and tourism, which contributes 80% to the GDP of the country. The mountains are spectacular and the possibilities for winter sport seems to be really good, but what I have seen from the “rest” of the country startled me. I guess there are more apartments and shops then inhabitants, on nearly every accessible mountain houses have been built. Andorra did a lot according to the motto of the forum: more than 10 million visitors per year, a per capita income of 44,900 Euros (9th place in the world) and it is a tax heaven. The country does not have an unemployment problem like their neighbor countries France and Spain.
Not sure, how sustainable the economy will be after changing the tax status. What will they do, when every mountain is covered with houses and ski resorts?

The conference day started with a session, presented by Visa: tourism, sports and mega-events. Paul Wilke from Visa presented some figures about tourist spending during the soccer world cup  The tourism minister from South Africa, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, explained how the world cup changed the lives of many South Africans. According to him, the investments were carefully planned and placed in poor regions of the country to get people out of poverty. The big infrastructural investments like streets, hotels, stadiums are aimed to be used after and not going to be demolished like in many other hosting countries. What remains is the pride of the country.

In a debate about competitive factors for tourism, Gloria Guevara Manzo, Secretary of Tourism from Mexico explained the strategy of the Mexican government for tourism development on the case of Cancun. According to her, all responsables learnt from their mistakes not having included local people in the development process of Cancun, a city which did not exist 40 years ago and which is now one of the country’s biggest tourism resort. Cancun will be enlarged and this time, they started a participatory process to realize growth, social inclusion and build more hotels.

The director of China’s Institute of Tourism Industry and Enterprises Development, LI Zhongguang, informed about China’s plans to develop 60 touristic places in the country in the next years.
The tenor of the other speeches were mostly the same. The Vicepresident of the Spanish Sol Meliá Group complained the temporary closure of hotels in Egypt and Tunisia because of the political situation but emphasized that democracy is always better for tourism development even it takes longer to get to decisions.
Some other speakers instead wished they could act like the Chinese government, just simply impose actions. My neighbor, a student from Colombia, asked the panelists how they value the sustainability in their plans and the impact for further generations. The simple answer was: there is no simple answer. The South African tourism minister finally summarized:

If we have to decide between jobs and environment, we will go for jobs. Later on, we can think about environmental issues.

In a side event, the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) was presented.
The organizers of the GTF aims to be more connected to the WEF, and want to have more influence, status, etc. pointing out the economical role of tourism in the world.
The presentation of this report was long-awaited and hot debated by participants as that results are good enough for making politics with headlines:


Lets have a deeper look on it.
The pillars in the listings are calculated from variables derived from WEF surveys, summarized in three subindexes:

  1. Subindex A – Travel & tourism (T&T) regulatory framework:
    Policy rules and regulations, Environmental sustainability, Safety and security, Health and hygiene, Prioritization of T&T
  2. Subindex B – T&T business environment and infrastructure:
    Air transport infrastructure, Ground transport infrastructure, Tourism infrastructure, ICT infrastructure, Price competitiveness in the T&T industry
  3. Subindex C – T&T human, cultural, and natural resources:
    Human resources, Affinity for T&T, Natural resources, Cultural resources

The calculation of the numbers is explained in the report, the single collected data itself are not open accessible.

Below, the ranking in these pillars:


And here the table with the comparison of the three subindexes to the overall index:


In the last session, I attended the consultant Anita Mendiratta who gave a short overview of web-based communciation tools, bite-sized presented to audience which is probably not familiar in using these resources. The presentation was garnished with “funny little” advertising videos from Microsoft and an airline company.

The forum was an ambivalent experience for me, somehow strange. Travel and tourism is a big business, contributes with 9% to the worldwide GDP and there still is a big development potential. The tourism industry is often far away from sustainable development, not paying enough attention to environmental issues, neither to the social inclusion of local communities.

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