Unlocking opportunities for people, planet through focused investments in tourism

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As one of the most progressive sectors of the global economy, a sustainable and resilient tourism industry remains critical to shape a better future for people, the planet, and for prosperity.

From enhancing the livelihoods of local communities to boosting employment, empowering women, promoting entrepreneurship, and protecting and preserving natural and cultural heritage, tourism can be a positive force for good when it goes beyond the conventional parameters of economic growth to also fuel both environmental and societal aspirations.

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“On Wednesday, as we celebrate World Tourism Day 2023 under the theme, ‘Tourism and Green Investments,’ there is no better time to turn the spotlight on the transformative power of tourism and the vital need for more and better-targeted investments to lead the industry into the future,” says Muzzammil Ahussain, CEO, Almosafer, Saudi Arabia’s leading travel company (part of Seera Group).

Muzzammil Ahussain, CEO, Almosafer. (Supplied)
Muzzammil Ahussain, CEO, Almosafer. (Supplied)

As the official host city, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia is leading celebrations of World Tourism Day (WTD) 2023 and bringing industry stakeholders including development partners and private sector investors to unite around an innovative investment strategy -- one that prioritizes people and leverages technology to unlock the vast socio-economic and environmental potential of the tourism industry.

WTD is run by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the UN’s specialized agency for fostering tourism as a vehicle for equal, inclusive, and sustainable development.

“With an estimated 235 million tourists having travelled internationally in the first three months of 2023 -- more than double those in the same period of 2022 – the time is now ripe to drive greater momentum to develop new and innovative solutions to align tourism growth with focused investments to boost competitiveness and resilience,” says Ahussain.

AlUla, oasis city in Medina province, Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
AlUla, oasis city in Medina province, Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“Following the pandemic, there has been a greater awareness of the need to put inclusivity at the heart of any development plan. This assumes greater significance here in the Middle East where the travel and tourism sector’s average annual growth is expected to outpace the overall economy for the next 10 years,” he says.

As the sector evolves rapidly, it becomes increasingly important to rethink the structure of tourism economies through investments in education and skills development, including for women and youth, to nurture and empower a larger tourism workforce. In line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), “this commitment must be reinforced with a deep focus on developing capabilities across the tourism value chain and promoting the ease of doing business,” says the Almosafer CEO.

The tourism industry is a proven tool for economic diversification and is a major employment engine. Today, one in 11 jobs worldwide are in the travel and tourism sector. Within the next decade, almost 12 percent of the working population are likely to be employed in the industry as the sector grows its GDP contribution to 11.6 percent of the global economy.

Ahussain notes that investments in human capital to fully equip people with the skills and knowledge needed to deliver world-class experiences to visitors will be critical to support this growth and seize the benefits of the industry’s multiplier effect on other sectors. Investment policies aimed at facilitating access to academic and vocational training, resources, and opportunities will be key to upskilling and reskilling communities around the world.

Substantial investments in traditional and non-traditional sectors of tourism are critical to drive growth in climate resilient infrastructure, the hospitality sector and accelerate the green transformation, he says.

“Through global and regional partnerships, this approach encompasses a wide range of initiatives from eco-friendly accommodations and low-impact transportation to responsible wildlife tourism and conservation efforts. Rethinking the existing green investment frameworks and financial initiatives will go a long way towards developing impactful sustainable and resilient tourism practices that delivers for people and the planet.”

Today, the transformative role of innovation in the tourism sector becomes more apparent as technological breakthroughs and new business models continue to reshape the travel experience.

Tabuk- Wadi Al Disah. (Supplied)
Tabuk- Wadi Al Disah. (Supplied)

“For women, particularly, tourism is a vehicle for empowerment and development as 54% of people employed in tourism globally are women. Yet, gender gaps exist in wages, access to capital, resource allocation, and leadership opportunities. Technology is key to close these gaps and break gender barriers. Investments that support and incentivize entrepreneurship through more tech training opportunities for young people and women, for example, will drive economic growth and poverty reductio. Such investments also pave the way for opportunities to harness the unique values of innovation and competitiveness that women entrepreneurs and micro and small enterprises bring to the table,” says Ahussain.

“On this World Tourism Day,” the Almosafer CEO says “let’s pledge to build a more inclusive tomorrow and ensure that just and equal opportunities are accessible to everyone, everywhere. Investing in people and boosting creativity and innovation programs in technology and entrepreneurship along the tourism value chain can set the stage for fresh perspectives and groundbreaking solutions.”

“The ultimate goal is not just about increasing visitor numbers or expanding to new markets. Tourism empowers lives and investing in innovation, entrepreneurship and digital transformation has the potential to shape nations, foster global understanding, and create a better future for our planet,” he says.

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