Taleb Rifai, United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) secretary- general, sees tourism as the key to peace, cooperation and economic growth
It is for this reason that he urged world leaders to open their country’s borders and skies so that people can travel from their place to other places, and this would in turn draw nations and the world’s different peoples closer, Rifai said in an interview with the Albay-based media on Saturday evening at the Misibis Bay Resort and Casino.
He arrived on Saturday afternoon in Legazpi City and will preside over the 26th Joint meeting of the UNWTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and the UNWTO Commission for South Asia.
Rifai, a Jordanian national, will also preside over the two-day UNWTO-ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change where the member-nations will take up the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET).
He claims that by opening borders and opening the skies of every country to others this would open the market for tourism, which is an essential economic growth driver.
The UNWTO official, who has held the position of secretary general since January 1, 2010, pictures tourism as a powerful force in the world, saying “I want billions of people to travel every year, going to other countries; this way, it would be an opportunity for people to be together, understand each other and promote their respective nations, thus, breaking the barriers that separate them.”
He said air connectivity will be a driving force that would bring people together and break the barriers and promote tourism and a country’s cultural heritage.
“Opening the skies will also mean allowing other airline carriers to enter other countries, which would in turn booster the economy of the host country,” said Rifai, who spoke eloquently.
The growth in air connectivity would result in economic growth, he added.
“Air connectivity, which is among the significant items of the agenda at the conference, is much better today than yesterday and it will be much better tomorrow,” claims Rifai, who is based in Madrid, Spain.
On the outlook of global tourism in the face of challenges and threats by climate change, Rifai said climate change is a matter that the tourism industry should look into, deal with and address as the environment, according to him, is the most valuable capital and assets that the industry should protect and preserve for it to be sustained.
“Tourism development deals with two basic aspects: the natural environment and the natural heritage. It is in the best interest of the industry to make the environment clean and protected, ” he pointed out.
According to Rifai, the industry can be the best ally in fighting climate change.
“We believe that tourism can be one of the vehicles to lessen the negative impacts of climate change, that’s why we are meeting here to set up policies that would counter the effects of climate change and to make people aware of the value of the environment that they have to protect,” said the environmentalist who holds a Bachelor of Architectural Engineering degree from the University of Cairo.
People should realize that the livelihood they are engaged in are dependent on the natural environment that they have to preserve, Rifai said.
He said the Global Code of Ethics has been approved and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2003.
“It works as an effective tool in guiding tourism stakeholders on various tourism-related endeavors," the global tourism leader said.
The Code has ten principles that amply cover the economic, social, cultural and environmental components of travel and tourism.
Rifai expressed elation that no member-nation that was signatory to the Code has violated or has admitted that he has violated or has declared not to have followed the Code, although, according to him, there are different levels of implementation and interpretation of the principles, rules and regulations.
Rifai said the Code will be strict in enforcing the rules, citing that the industry players will not violate abuses on the environment, much more building tourism industry that would deal with child labor, trafficking of women, as well as cultural artifacts -- citing as an example the issue of poaching in Africa or any tourism market that would destroy lives and communities.
He arrived on Saturday afternoon at the Legazpi Domestic Airport and was welcomed by local and national officials led Legazpi City Mayor Noel E. Rosal.
From the airport, Rifai, Rosal and Maria Ong Ravanilla, Department of Tourism (DOT) regional director, toured by helicopter the Mount Mayon Volcano and dropped off for a few minutes on top of the four-storey-high Mayon Volcano Lava Front in Barangay Mabinit, a village at the foot of the volcano, some seven kilometers from this city.
After the Mayon Volcano tour, the UNTWO official proceeded to the Misibis Bay Resort and Casino where he was welcomed by Zaldy Co, a local business tycoon-philanthropist and owner of the posh resort.
UNTWO delegates were also at hand to welcome Rifai.
“I see smiling faces and beautiful people among the Filipinos and the people are the country’s most important asset. Here in Albay you have beautiful people and beautiful places and your local officials are very supportive of tourism,” he said during the White Night dinner at the resort’s beach front featuring local and foreign cuisines. (PNA) CTB/FGS/Mar S. Arguelles/CBD/RSM