World Tourism Day attempts to spark a conversation about the real-world impact tourism has on communities and the environment without doing enough to follow through and translate that conversation into change.
Most people around the world love to travel, so much so that 1.087 billion people crossed international borders last year. Far less than that likely realize there is a day dedicated to what so many of them dream, plan and save for.
World Tourism Day takes place on September 27 every year, during which the United National World Tourism Organization sets aside time to look at the social, cultural, political and economic value of travel and how tourism contributes specifically to the challenges outlined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
The day of recognition began in 1980 to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the UNWTO Statutes. It also coincides with the end of the busiest tourism season in the northern hemisphere and the start of another in the southern hemisphere.
How to Celebrate
Each year the UNWTO brings the day of celebration to a different country to focus on a different aspect or topic that impacts the global tourism economy. This Saturday that celebration will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico where the focus will be on community development, or as the UNWTO describes it, “the ability of tourism to empower people and provide them with skills to achieve change in their local communities.”
The UNWTO decides the topic and destination for each celebration two years in advance and tries to align its conversation with the topic chosen for the United Nations’ International Years.
“We’re looking forward to it because the president of Mexico will be there and that such a high-level of government is supporting the sector and highlighting tourism’s importance,” explains UNWTO spokeswoman Sandra Carvao.
Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism Claudia Ruiz Massieu echoed Carvao’s enthusiasm in a statement released before this weekend’s event.
“Mexico itself is a clear example of community development and sustainable practices in tourism, seeking to enhance the socio-economic growth of local communities, and to promote the preservation of their national resources and cultural heritage,” writes Massieu.
“World Tourism Day will be an exceptional opportunity for us all to reevaluate the importance of tourism as a crucial economic activity for the promotion of growth and development of local communities.”
Measuring Its Impact
Although it’s nice to get a group of high-level influencers together to discuss hard to tackle topics, the impact of such conversations can often fall short of attendees’ aspirations.
To get a better idea of celebrations’ impact, we asked the founders of WHOLE WORLD Water about the result of their partnership and efforts to open the discussion around water issues as it relates to hotel and resort operations.
“Through our efforts with the WTO, we were able to recruit several new members, as they could see that by becoming a member of the WHOLE WORLD Water campaign they were able to reduce costs as well as carbon emissions, increase revenue, eliminate plastic waste and significantly increase funds for clean & safe water initiatives around the world,” shares Karena Albers, co-founder of WHOLE WORLD Water.
Although the UNWTO only hosts events in coordination with the local government and tourism community in one country each year, it encourages other countries and communities to plan their own events to discuss pressing topics impacting tourism today.
The UNWTO suggests companies and communities interested in participating share the message of the UNWTO Secretary-General and the World Tourism Day logo — in other words, share the marketing message of the UNWTO.
It also suggests hosting competitions and events to spark a local conservation.
“It’s really about getting the message out that day. It’s not up to us to control how each country celebrates it,” says Carvao.
Examples of those materials include a 2013 paper, “Tourism Stories – How Tourism Enriched My Life,” about local tour guides and business owners working in the tourism industry worldwide and a video on the same topic.
The UNWTO produced the below video to show a few of the faces of tourism:
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Photo credit: Traditional Dance welcoming visitors into a Ngorongoro Maasai Village. Harvey Barrison / Flickr