By Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME. Translated from Spanish to English. Originally posted in El Nacional.
The tourism sector continues to face crises, wars, earthquakes, inflation and multiple obstacles of all kinds. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the interconnectedness between host and source markets, and demonstrated how an external factor can influence, or even disrupt, the hotel and tourism industry. Change is inevitable if we are to move into the future.
The recovery of the sector is a fact and international tourism could reach 80%-95% of pre-pandemic figures this year. It is time to focus on innovation, sustainability and digitalisation, as well as dealing with digital nomads or the impact of social networks, to solve structural and environmental obstacles and generate positive change.
The growth of the tourism industry over the last 70 years is impressive, and its impact on dozens of economic sectors positions it as an effective multiplier of global development strategies. It is the fourth largest revenue-generating activity in international trade. Few sectors can generate so many opportunities and create so many jobs.
Today, tourism represents 10% of world GDP, 7% of world exports, 10% of registered employment, and moved more than 1.5 billion travellers in 2019. For the future, the sector must manage this growth by ensuring that it benefits the entire population of host countries, creating jobs especially among youth and women, attracting investment in infrastructure and technology, creating SMEs and livelihoods, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
The world’s main tourist area is the Mediterranean. The figures are impressive, close to 400 million tourists, 32% of international arrivals and 30% of global income. It accounts for 13% of exports, 23% of the service sector and employs more than 20 million people. It has 10,000 destinations, 100,000 hotels, one million restaurants. But there is no balance between the two shores.
Turning the Mediterranean into a sustainable tourist destination is one of the great challenges. This implies a shared responsibility based on the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. This is not a trivial platitude. Sustainability is necessary to avoid the threat of climate change, and enhancing cultural and historical diversity and biodiversity is a must in terms of tourism management.
Tourism fosters the movement of people, capital, goods and knowledge with great impact on economic and cultural integration. Moving forward will require deep cooperation between Mediterranean countries, which must jointly address major socio-economic problems, such as poverty and unemployment, in order to improve their overall development.
The Mediterranean can gain a competitive advantage and thus improve sustainability if it can package and market its varied offer more coherently to attract potential visitors. The tourism industry is highly competitive and requires sustainable and innovative marketing strategies to ensure long-term success.
The creation of a single brand for the entire Mediterranean is key. It would generate revenue, jobs, help innovation and bridge the gap by enhancing joint promotion and marketing tools that compete in the global market and expand market share. A regional tourism agency, involving all stakeholders in a public-private partnership, is a necessity.
The term hospitality is related to the term hospital, i.e. the business of caring for others. Tourism, when well managed, provides an incredible boost to host cities or countries. We must work with the tourism industry, not against it. Mismanagement is the enemy, not tourism. It is sometimes forgotten that the benefits of tourism are not only economic, but it is also a powerful tool for engaging and interacting with other people, a learning experience that opens new perspectives on other cultures and breaks down many stereotypes and contributes to greater tolerance.