Exclusive interview: UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili
The UNWTO is back at ITB Berlin leading a conversation on the global restart of tourism, what this means for sustainable development and equality, and how innovation and communication can help build “the sector we need for the future we want”. But just how has the UNWTO been working to chart a course for the industry out of the Covid-19 crisis? We put the question to the organisation’s Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili.
UNWTO’s contribution to the tourism sector during the Covid-19 crisis has seen great progress. We have increasingly supported our members, providing them with analysis and expertise; investing in technical cooperation projects to address their tourism priorities. We’ve been strengthening UNWTO’s presence in the field, with plans to open new regional offices, the first one to open shortly for the Middle East, based in Saudi Arabia. We have fostered tourism education, investment and innovation, harnessing the power of Big Data and AI to offer solutions to the crisis and monitor the impact Covid-19 on the tourism sector. In this regard, tools like the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker compile all the relevant data in one place, giving governments and the private businesses the ability to track the recovery of tourism at global and regional level, alongside information on the top destinations for international tourism.
Our response to an unprecedented crisis has now changed gears towards the restart of tourism, with all the economic and social benefits this will bring. Safe international travel is now possible while observing new security measures and protocols. Indeed, I have seen for myself how tourism has led the way in adapting to the new reality and stepping up protocols to keep both tourists and tourism workers safe. We need people to view tourism as a safe activity. Restoring confidence in international travel is our key priority for the restart of tourism.
Our response to an unprecedented crisis has now changed gears towards the restart of tourism, with all the economic and social benefits this will bring
You have spoken about the importance of harnessing the power of culture and creativity in a tourism recovery. Could you please tell us more?
Culture has proven indispensable during this period, and the demand for virtual access to museums, heritage sites, theatres and performances has reached unprecedented levels. This is precisely the first thing people want to do when they restart tourism. As part of the Restart Tourism campaign, UNWTO and Google Arts & Culture partnered during World Tourism Day 2020 to promote meaningful exchanges between people around the world, and recall how travel helps us all recharge – and make a real difference by supporting livelihoods and protecting our heritage.
The tourism and culture sectors are facing an opportunity to create new partnerships and collaboration. In recognition of this mutually reinforcing relationship, the UNWTO and UNESCO have collaborated to produce a set of new guidelines focusing on the responsible restart of cultural tourism. Together, we can reinvent and diversify the offer, attract new audiences, develop new skills and support the world’s transition to the new conditions.
Innovation has been one of my key priorities since the start of my first mandate. We have partnered with leading innovators like Google, IE University, Wakalua and many more to identify the best new ideas and talent, for example through our Innovation Challenges and Start-up Competitions. Now, we have an opportunity to place innovation at the very heart of the sector’s future. New ideas, along with the wider digital transformation of tourism, can help make our sector more sustainable. Innovation can also help widen access to the opportunities offered through tourism, for example access to jobs and education, and ensure the benefits our sector delivers are shared widely and fairly.
What activities is UNWTO organising at ITB Berlin NOW this year?
UNWTO returns to ITB Berlin NOW to lead the conversation on the global restart of tourism, what this means for sustainable development and equality, and how innovation and communication can help build the sector we need for the future we want.
What are your thoughts about the show’s format?
We congratulate ITB Berlin NOW for its virtual transformation, which sets an example to us all on how the restart of tourism is possible and can benefit from any digital tools. In addition, ITB´s new format is intuitive and efficient, making it possible to organise meetings and events as well as any other year.
UNWTO @ ITB Berlin NOW
As happens each year, the World Tourism Organisation has been holding daily sessions at ITB Berlin NOW this year. On Tuesday, “Eliminate. Innovate. Circulate.” addressed strategies from the global plastics initiative. Wednesday saw “UNWTO Changemakers: Female entrepreneurs driving the SDGS”; yesterday, the theme was “Communication for recovery”; and today, at mid-day, the theme is “Protecting those Groups Most Affected in and Beyond the Tourism Crisis”.
Photo: Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary-General