A Turning Point: Crafting Tourism’s Future Together

Asian travellers during COVID-19 wearing facemasks

A Turning Point: Crafting Tourism’s Future Together

Asia’s key travel and tourism organisations are devoting their resources to resetting the industry for a meaningful and sustainable recovery, and they are not alone on this journey. By TTG Asia reporters

The paralysis of global travel and tourism has served to highlight the industry’s important multifaceted contributions to the world, and the Asia Pacific region in particular.

Trevor Weltman, chief of staff at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), observed: “In many ways, the agenda of leading travel and tourism organisations such as PATA, the World Tourism Organization, and World Travel and Tourism Council in highlighting the importance of the travel and tourism industry being a sector of extraordinary economic, social, and environmental focus was not fully heeded until this crisis.”

“The change occurred after border closures effectively removed an average 10 percent of a destination’s GDP and, in many cases, in the region upwards of 20 percent. As a result, tourism suddenly moved to a critical status higher on the policy agenda. Thus, we are being sought out more than before as subject matter experts to explain to governments and businesses alike the importance of tourism and strategies for moving forward,” he added.

What Regional Tourism Bodies Are Doing?

As times of difficulties are often a test of leadership, Asia’s top travel and tourism organisations are finding themselves having to steer stakeholders out of the devastating Covid-19 crisis, while maintaining their core work of shaping tourism development in a meaningful and sustainable way.

For the team at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Tourism Working Group (APEC TWG), efforts are focused now on readying destinations for the resumption of travel.

APEC TWG lead shepherd and senior director of Tourism Policy and International Relations of Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mohd Daud Mohd Arif, said: “Even now, as some economies struggle to contain the virus’s waves, others are slowly reopening domestic tourism or travel to neighbouring destinations. Tourism administrators should keep a collective eye on these ventures, as we plan the revival of the industry.”

To that end, APEC TWG is aligning policies among member economies to facilitate future travel, improving coordination mechanisms, and incorporating risk and emergency management measures as a means of strengthening the resilience of tourism.

“We’re in the process of reviewing the existing work plans and goals, to ensure they will conform to the new normal,” said Mohd Daud.

He noted that member economies looking to open up their economy and revive their tourism sector must prioritise the health and safety of travellers.

“We need to work closely with our health and emergency preparedness agencies in developing standard procedures that will instil confidence, encourage travel and ensure safety at the same time,” he added.

PATA has also maintained its core work in catalysing the responsible and sustainable development of travel and tourism to, from, and within the Asia-Pacific region. However, to deal with present challenges, Weltman said “allocation of our attention and resources has shifted to other areas”.

He elaborated: “For example, in previous years we held many activities to stimulate trading and business growth for our members via our trade shows, local meet-ups, and our thought-leadership and networking events. While we are still doing some activities related to trading, such as the Virtual PATA Travel Mart 2020 (September 23 to 27), we have put much more emphasis on our insights and advocacy work through our newly establish Crisis Resource Center (CRC), given how many businesses are unable to trade right now yet need a better understanding of what is happening in the industry in relation to the current pandemic.”

As a uniting body across tourism’s vast supply chain, from governments to SMEs and from hospitality groups to tour companies, PATA has been able to leverage its cross-sector relationships to support the industry today.

Weltman noted that PATA’s communications work has intensified since the coronavirus outbreak. “Not a week goes by now when our CEO or leadership team is not giving an interview or speaking on a webinar about the impact of Covid-19 on the industry and recovery,” he remarked.

Similarly, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) has found itself devoting all its time and energies “on working successfully with key stakeholders, including governments, to get travel and tourism back on its feet”.

“Never has one issue dominated our every conversation and collaboration as does (Covid-19),” noted director general Subhas Menon, who termed the current predicament as “the mother of all crises”.

 “We are unified in our mission to persuade the easing of border regulations to facilitate a timely restart of aviation. If together, the industry is able to initiate a rethink on the shuttering of borders and flights, we would have fulfilled our mission,” said Menon.

AAPA is working under the aegis of the International Civil Aviation Organization to establish a framework based on science and evidence that will see “aviation starting again, safely, smoothly, sustainably and soon”.

Pansy Ho, vice-chairman and secretary-general of the Global Tourism Economy Forum (GTEF), in keynoting The World Conference on Tourism Cooperation and Development, Providing Recovery Recommendations for the Global Tourism Industry, regarded the Covid-19 crisis as “an opportunity to rethink the future of tourism and to reinvest in its potential”.

Ho recommends overcoming tourism challenges through technology and innovation, such as with tools like facial recognition, digital wallets, and biometric surveillance that will enable a more seamless travel experience, particularly in transportation and accommodation.

Robotic technology with advanced contactless systems can improve hygiene, ensure safety and boost traveller confidence, she noted, adding thattechnology had also helped art, culture and creativity to continue to thrive.

Ho pointed out: “Cultural sites and museums have opened their virtual doors, connecting audiences via livestream to the Palace of Versailles in France, the Palace Museum in Beijing, and the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang City, among many others. Virtual technology has allowed us to continue life’s adventures from our homes as we look forward to traveling again.”


Invaluable Partnerships from Development and International Organisations

These tourism organisations are not alone in their effort to rebuild Asia-Pacific’s travel and hospitality landscape. Institutions beyond the tourism boundaries have stepped back into development efforts.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been financing sustainable tourism projects in about 45 countries across Asia-Pacific, mainly government public investment programmes that deal with destination infrastructure, vocational training, marketing and promotions, and tourism masterplans, among others.

Through projects like the Greater Mekong Subregion Tourism Infrastructure for Inclusive Growth, it aims to promote tourism as a tool to drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and local job creation, especially in rural areas. This is partly achieved through ADB’s work of enhancing transport infrastructures to improve accessibility to secondary destinations, so that tourism benefits can be spread more widely.

Steven Schipani, a senior portfolio management specialist in ADB’s South-east Asia department who has been handling the agency’s tourism work in the Mekong countries for the past decade, shared that the institution has financed the preparation of tourism management plans based on sustainability and inclusiveness for dozens of destinations, alongside other regions. That also entails training destination managers on how to put sustainable measures in place or devise science-specific policies for sustainability.

Before the pandemic, with overtourism straining the environment, ADB has been supporting destinations in supervising protected area management plans, strengthening institutional capacity to manage natural or cultural tourist sites, as well as helping with solid waste collection and waste water treatment in tourist destinations.

“You wouldn’t think of a tourism project as constructing a landfill, or building a waste water treatment plant, but that’s exactly the type of infrastructure that we finance in a lot of our tourism projects,” he revealed.

Now with the pandemic reshaping the tourism landscape, many destination marketing organization (DMO) have approached ADB for help in health and safety training, implementation of a good Covid-19 health and safety plan, as well as strengthening the health and hygiene infrastructure at destinations. Hence, ADB became an early supporter of PATA’s CRC so PATA could assist with creating this essential content for DMO stakeholders.

German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) currently handles about 60 projects that support sustainable tourism, ranging from protecting biodiversity, boosting employment and education in aspects of sustainable tourism development, and fostering skills at the local level.

For instance, GIZ is supporting the creation and management of destination marketers to facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogue. A key part of GIZ’s tourism work is to increase local value generation for local communities.

The pandemic has shown that destinations that rely on a variety of sustainable products and a range of source markets are better positioned to restart after the crisis. Hence, integrating sustainability into the “management DNA” helps tourism companies to build a more resilient tomorrow, according to Andreas Hofmann, project manager at GIZ.

In Thailand, GIZ is supporting the Hotel Resilient Initiative, which aims to develop internationally recognised standards for hotels and resorts to stand against climate and disaster risks. At the same time, the standards will help properties to demonstrate the level of preparedness and safety of their premises to potential clients, insurers and financers.

The agency also works with hotels in Laos and Indonesia to promote sustainable consumption and production. “Trainings, for example, focus on how hotel engineers could save money and improve their environmental footprint by properly installing their air-conditioning units or monitoring the scaling of their hot water pipes,” shared Hofmann.

GIZ’s work extends to training and provision of information for the ASEAN Sustainable Solutions Fair, where technology providers meet with tourism businesses to match green economy solutions, such as better sensors for energy management, waste management systems and organic F&B inputs. Similar to ADB, GIZ has also become an early supporter of the PATA CRC to leverage the association’s deep networks when preparing trainings for DMOs in the region.

The World Economic Forum (WEF), in guiding the travel and tourism industry towards continued growth and contribution to the wider global community, runs three sustainable tourism projects: Clean Skies for Tomorrow; the Global Future Council on Sustainable Tourism; and the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index.

According to Maksim Soshkin, research and analysis specialist, Shaping the Future of Mobility, WEF, the travel and tourism industry needs to “chart a more sustainable course or risk finding itself in another resilience crisis like Covid-19 further down the line”.

Clean, safe, and inclusive mobility is critical to both a healthy tourism industry and meeting the challenges of climate change. Clean Skies for Tomorrow is a global initiative working across the aviation’s value chain to achieve net-zero aviation by mid-century, said Kevin Soubly, project lead.

This project will help preserve the world’s popular tourism destinations under threat from environmental pressures and ensure people can get there to see them, he added.

WEF’s Global Future Councils (GFCs), interdisciplinary knowledge networks dedicated to shaping the future and serve as an expert think tank, was expanded this year with a new unit on Sustainable Tourism. It includes members from the travel and tourism industry and tourism ministers, as well as academics and experts on all aspects of sustainability.

“This council will evaluate the conditions or policies that would be needed for the success of progressive business models that place sustainability in their DNA and may explore the development of industry-wide metrics that enable comparability and accountability,” said Isobel Fenton, platform curator, aviation & aerospace, Shaping the Future of Mobility, WEF.

“It will also consider how developing technologies can be harnessed to support the transition to ultimately achieve a clean, safe and inclusive tourism industry.”

Long-term industry and destination competitiveness hinges on sustainability, and WEF’s work highlights that. In 2019, WEF published its Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR). Developed over a decade ago, the report is based on the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI), which measures factors and policies that enable the sustainable development of the travel and tourism sector, which in turn, contributes to a country’s competitiveness.

Among various findings, TTCI showed that six out of 10 economies with the best natural resources failed to make it to the top 60 for environmental sustainability.

The 2019 edition of the TTCR also looked at how the travel and tourism sector can avoid reaching a tipping point where its long-term success is outdone by the sustainability challenges.

Over the next year, WEF will update the TTCI framework to have an even greater focus on sustainability, including metrics for issues such as overcrowding and the distribution of travel and tourism benefits to local population.

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