21 October 2003


NEW YORK, 20 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in Beijing on 19 October:

I am delighted and honoured to be addressing you today.  I cannot think of a better place than Beijing to reflect on the importance of tourism in today’s world.  China offers a unique blend of history, cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty, coupled with an economic growth that has become the envy of the world.  It is little wonder that it is also growing rapidly as a magnet of tourism.  We are fortunate indeed at this conference to sample the wonderful welcome China accords its visitors.

Allow me to congratulate your Secretary-General, Mr. Francesco Frangialli, on his dynamic leadership of the World Tourism Organization.  One of the issues on your conference agenda is completing the transformation of the WTO into a specialized agency of the United Nations.  This is a process that we, at the United Nations, warmly welcome.  We look forward to your final approval of the draft agreement between our organizations, which the UN General Assembly, in turn, is expected to approve on 7 November.

The deepening of our relationship reflects the growing importance of tourism in today’s globalized world.

It recognizes the need for closer cooperation between the UN family and an industry that is inherently multidimensional.

And it reflects the contribution that the WTO can make to the global UN agenda.

Let me address those points in detail.

First, the importance of tourism.  Travel for recreation continues to be a growth industry.  Although events in the past two years have seriously affected tourism, more people than ever travel -- despite the economic slowdown; the successive shocks of 11 September, the terrorist attacks in Bali, Casablanca, Djerba and Mombasa; the SARS virus; and the impact of conflicts in different parts of the world.

Over the past half century, international tourist arrivals have risen dramatically -- from 25 million tourist arrivals a year in 1950 to 715 million in 2002.  In 2001, despite the global crisis in tourism, 697 million visitors travelled from one country to another and spent some 462 billion dollars.

This makes tourism the world’s largest economic sector.  And it makes tourism a central factor in the life of millions of people.  Indeed, as it brings together people of different cultures on a scale previously unimagined, tourism is now one of the most powerful forces of change in the world.

This leads me to my second point:  the need for closer cooperation between the World Tourism Organization and the UN family.  As tourism spans an increasingly wide range of issues and activities, it cannot be looked at in isolation from the global UN agenda.  It must be managed carefully to prevent harmful effects that are becoming all too visible in many popular destinations, including:

  • The destruction of natural heritage through overbuilding;
  • Ever higher demands on scarce water and energy resources;
  • Damage to ecologically fragile areas caused by irresponsible development;
  • Threats to indigenous cultures;
  • Exploitation of workers; and
  • Organized sex tourism, and -- most tragic of all -- child sex tourism, which affects millions of children each year.

These issues require our urgent attention.  In particular, I urge all governments -- both in countries that generate tourism and in those that receive them -- to adopt and enforce measures to prevent and combat all forms of sexual exploitation of children in tourism, if they have not yet done so.  Let us be clear:  when it comes to exploiting children, there can be no excuses for tolerance.

By working together and making the best of the synergies that exist between our organizations, we can make a big difference on all the challenges facing us.  An excellent step in the right direction is WTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, which was endorsed by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in 1999.  The code creates a much-needed frame of reference for the responsible and sustainable development of world tourism by outlining the “rules of the game” for all stakeholders –- governments; non-governmental organizations; the private sector, in particular the tourism industry; host communities; and travellers themselves.

Let me also congratulate you on your leadership in making tourism part of the Plan of Action adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and on your significant contribution to the success of the 2002 International Year of Ecotourism.  Equally welcome is your assistance to a number of countries in adapting to their particular conditions the Quebec Declaration, adopted at the World Ecotourism Summit last May.

At the Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders identified environmental sustainability as one of the most urgent challenges of the twenty-first century.  It is a challenge that concerns everyone.  If we fail to act now, we will threaten the ability of our planet to provide for the needs of future generations.

This is an area where your work can make an important contribution to that of the United Nations.  But there are others, and together they form my third point:  the contribution that the World Tourism Organization can make to the global UN agenda.

It is now widely acknowledged that tourism can play a significant role in helping people lift themselves out of poverty and build better lives.  Indeed, international tourism is one of the few ways in which the least developed countries (LDCs) have managed to increase their participation in the global economy.  It is, in fact, the primary source of foreign exchange in all but a few LDCs, and notably the small island developing States.

As tourists and tour operators seek new destinations, tourism has a unique potential to promote economic growth and investment at the local level.  As a highly labour-intensive sector, it creates job opportunities for unskilled, as well as highly qualified labour.  It can benefit other economic sectors and small businesses, such as traditional agriculture and food production, handicrafts and textiles.  Through ecotourism -- one of the fastest growing parts of the industry -- it can contribute significantly to rural development, while promoting the development of basic infrastructure in remote locations.

And by promoting greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations, tourism can contribute to better understanding among peoples, and help foster a culture of peace that is essential to development.

Three years ago, the world’s leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration as a blueprint for building better lives for people everywhere.  We at the United Nations look forward to working ever more closely with you, the World Tourism Organization.

I extend my warmest welcome in advance to you as our first new family member in the twenty-first century, and wish you a most fruitful General Assembly.

Thank you very much.

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