UNWTO General Assembly ends with a call for closer ties between tourism and air transport

The 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly, which opened on 24 August 2013 in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), ended in Livingstone (Zambia) on 29 August 2013. The General Assembly, co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia, is the second UNWTO General Assembly to be held in Africa and the first in Southern Africa.

“This was an assembly to celebrate Africa and celebrate what tourism can do for Africa,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Mr. Taleb Rifai, who thanked “the people of Livingstone and Victoria Falls for the way they welcomed UNWTO, and we hope that this Assembly has been up to your expectations.”

During its closing session on 28 August 2013, the General Assembly discussed issues of key relevance to the development of tourism. The discussion put a spotlight on the link between development of tourism, visa facilitation, air connectivity, and accessibility. Delegations from the 120 UNWTO Members States discussed air transport policies in their respective countries and called for measures to increase connectivity and for closer collaboration between tourism and air transport policies. Issues such as visa facilitation, the need to make airports more visitor friendly, taxation, open skies and the impact of low cost airlines were also among the issues debated.

More than one billion tourists crossed international borders during 2012, over half of these travelled by air to their destinations.

At the Ministerial Round Table on visa facilitation held on 26 August, President of Malawi, Her Excellency Joyce Banda as current Chair of SADC reiterated her commitment  to tourism development as a tool for development and in particular to visa facilitation and flight connectivity.

At the end the General Assembly, the UNWTO announced to advance flight connectivity as one of its policy priorities alongside visa facilitation and fair taxation in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization. The General Assembly also approved important recommendations on Accessible Tourism for All. The recommendations define the appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities have access on an equal basis with others, to all travel and tourism services and infrastructure. Furthermore the Assembly took important decisions, including: The approval of a set of recommendations on Youth Tourism and welcoming three Member States to the Organization – Myanmar, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates. Representing United Nations in Zimbabwe, the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Alain Noudehou, participated at the 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly as an observer.

The General Assembly was enriched by several side events allowing delegates to participate and visit different local tourist sites and projects. In addition, the event was flanked by discussions on programmes promoting poverty alleviation through tourism, and information markets which included the United Nations in Zimbabwe information stand. The United Nations in Zimbabwe information stand provided information on the role of the United Nations and the Millennium Development Goals in Zimbabwe. Over 200 people per day visited the UN information stand throughout the five-day event.

The 20th Session of the UNWTO General Assembly ended with re-electing Mr. Taleb Rifai for a second term as UNWTO Secretary General (2014 -2017) and by voting on the bids presented by Cambodia and Colombia to host the 21st session of the UNWTO General Assembly in 2015.