UNTWO General Assembly Opens

The 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly opened on 26 August 2013, following an official inauguration ceremony held the night before at Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe.Click here for more photos

In his welcome remark, the UNWTO Secretary General, Taleb Rifai, declared, “This is the best attended General Assembly in the history of the organization. This session saw participation from 121 full delegates from member states, 140 delegates from all over the world, and 750 other delegates, 900 delegates from the media and the private sector and 49 foreign ministers.” The UN Country Team in Zimbabwe is participating at this General Assembly and has also joined over 200 other exhibitors, highlighting the role and works of the United Nations in promoting the Millennium Development Goals including tourism.

This year’s General Assembly, which is held in the twin tourist resort towns of Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Livingstone (Zambia), is co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia signifying the increasing impact of tourism as a tool for development and recognizing that Africa continues to strengthen its position in the world tourism map.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in a video message, said, “As we work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and define a Post-2015 development agenda, I call on all UNWTO Members and the global tourism community to examine how best to contribute to sustainable development.”

In their inaugural address, as co-hosts, Presidents of Zimbabwe and Zambia, H.E Robert Mugabe and H.E Michael Sata, respectively, thanked the United Nations Agencies for their continued support and called for increased support for sustainable tourism and relevant capacity building that promote infrastructure development, environmental awareness, ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities.

Tourism has become a central sector, particularly in Africa, where it accounts for an increasing number of jobs, community developments, and investment and export earnings. International tourist arrivals in Africa grew from 15 million in 1990 to 52 million in 2012 while exports from international tourism reached USD 34 billion in 2012 up from a mere USD 6 billion in 1990.

Addressing delegates at the opening session, the UNWTO Secretary General underscored the event as, “A timely opportunity for all of us to continue along an encouraging path to drive tourism towards its fullest potential in fostering sustainable economic growth, jobs and development, and what better backdrop to do so than here in Africa, a region where we believe tourism can be a true force for good.”

In 2012, some 1.8 million international tourists visited Zimbabwe generating USD 750 million. Noting the positive trend, the Minister of Tourism, Honourable Walter Mzembi said, “In Zimbabwe, tourism, next to mining, agriculture and infrastructure, is a fourth pillar of our economy to generate wealth and increase access to employment, stimulate rural transformation and usher livelihood opportunities to ordinary households, thus a sustainable tool for poverty alleviation.”

Meanwhile, on 26 August a Ministerial Round Table discussion held at Elephant Hills Hotel in Victoria Falls, described the 20th Session of the General Assembly as a unique occasion to celebrate tourism in Africa and an opportunity to devise ways to advance the contribution of the tourism sector in building better livelihoods in the region while protecting its cultural and natural heritage. The round table was chaired by the President of Malawi, H.E Dr. Joyce Banda, who is also the current Chair of Southern Africa Development Community.

On 25 August 2013, prior to the opening of the General Assembly, the UNWTO Secretary General gave an opening press conference to around 100 journalists from Zambia and Zimbabwe as well international media. The issues discussed include the general expectations for the General Assembly, its economic benefits for the local communities hosting the event and related activities, to the wider areas of global tourism trends and forecasts, and the challenges by tourism.

The UNWTO General Assembly is expected to end on Friday 30 August 2013.