Tourism recovery set to boost interest in unique, authentic travel

Tourism must be inclusive to ensure its resumption is sustainable, says UNWTO top official

Tuba Şahin   | 27.09.2021
Tourism recovery set to boost interest in unique, authentic travel


As tourism is bouncing back after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, unique and authentic travel experiences, such as cultural and gastronomy tourism, are becoming more popular, the secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has said.

"Tourism is resilient and will bounce back," Zurab Pololikashvili told Anadolu Agency, pointing out that the desire to travel has not faded and that the sector has led the way in adapting to the unprecedented challenge posed by the virus outbreak.

Tourism has suffered significantly since the onset of the pandemic which led to worldwide travel restrictions, border shutdowns, and an overall drop in consumer demand.

International tourism and its closely linked sectors suffered an estimated loss of $2.4 trillion in 2020, a report jointly presented by the UNWTO and UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) showed.

Highlighting that domestic tourism will be the first to bounce back, Pololikashvili said that safe international travel was also now possible with clear leadership and international cooperation.

"This first requires the harmonization of travel rules and protocols, as well as measures to restore trust in travel and make people feel safe again," Pololikashvili explained.

The UNWTO expects pre-pandemic trends in tourism to continue and perhaps even accelerate, he said, adding: "This includes stronger interest in unique and authentic travel experiences, for instance, cultural tourism, gastronomy tourism, and wine tourism."

Pololikashvili highlighted that tourists would now be more aware of the impact of their journeys and behavior and will want to make a difference for the communities they visit.

"We expect the movement towards greater inclusivity and sustainability -- both are core principles of UNWTO -- will continue as we restart tourism and guide our sector's recovery," Pololikashvili added.

According to the latest UNWTO data, international tourist arrivals slipped 85% compared to 2019 levels (or a drop of 65% from 2020) in January-May.

Pointing out that tourism has been at the forefront of adaptation and has led the digital transformation of societies, Pololikashvili said: "As such, the boom in tourism sector innovation we have seen during the pandemic as the sector adapts to an unprecedented challenge and drives the restart of safe travel is no surprise. We expect to see this innovation continue as we emerge out of the pandemic."

To ensure that tourism's restart is sustainable and as strong and resilient as possible, it also has to be inclusive, he underlined.

Pololikashvili noted that the theme of World Tourism Day 2021 was "Tourism for Inclusive Growth."

"Now is the time to recognize we need to ensure everyone is part of the conversation as we plan tourism's restart and recovery -- and that the economic and social benefits this will bring are shared as widely and fairly as possible."

Oya Narin, the head of the Turkish Tourism Investors Association (TTYD), said the momentum in the country's tourism sector would continue to improve in 2022-23 with vaccination becoming more widespread to curb COVID-19.

"The sector will overtake the 2019 levels by 2023-24," Narin said.

The interest in touristic cities, especially Istanbul, Turkey's largest city by population and a top tourist destination, will increase in the normalization period, she underlined.

Players in the tourism sector accelerated their efforts this year by implementing various projects, such as Istanbul Modern, a museum of modern and contemporary art, the Ataturk Cultural Center, the science and culture center of Tersane Istanbul, and Galataport, Narin said.

In subsequent years, the city will witness the opening of various museums that will make Istanbul a leader in bringing developments in arts and culture infrastructure to the world, she stressed.

"We believe that similar promotional activities will greatly benefit the extension of the tourism season," Narin noted, adding that competition in international tourism is expected to be very sharp during recovery.

Turkey's tourism revenues may surpass $100 billion by 2033 if the transformation in tourism becomes a government policy, Narin underlined.

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