Harnessing tourism's power

Friday, September 28, 2018

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We didn't hear much about it locally, but yesterday was observed as World Tourism Day.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) used the occasion to focus on “the potential contribution of digital technologies to sustainable tourism development, while providing a platform for investment, partnerships, and collaboration towards a more responsible and inclusive tourism sector”.

The day was therefore observed under the theme 'Tourism and the Digital Transformation'. In that regard, the UNWTO argued that “A digitally advanced tourism sector can improve entrepreneurship, inclusion, local community empowerment and efficient resource management, amongst other important development objectives”.

Added the UNWTO: “This year's World Tourism Day will help us to further explore the opportunities provided to tourism by technological advances including big data, artificial intelligence, and digital platforms.”

The theme, we believe, is natural and most timely, given the advances in modern technology which have impacted every industry that one can think of worldwide.

Gone are the days when one would book a flight and collect a paper ticket from a travel agent or airline booking agent. In fact, the digital age has hit travel agents hard, as many travellers can now use digital platforms themselves to book air seats, hotels, and indeed excursions.

Even restaurant reservations and, in major cities, taxis, can be booked using smartphones via the Internet.

Add to that the exponential growth of tourism, particularly over the last eight years, and you can understand why this industry had to keep pace with the digital revolution.

Data provided by the UNWTO show that 2017 was a record year for international tourism. Arrivals, the UNWTO said, “grew for the eighth consecutive year — a sequence of uninterrupted growth not recorded since the 1960s. Destinations worldwide welcomed 1,323 million international tourist arrivals, some 84 million more than in 2016”.

The industry, the UNWTO pointed out, has grown above average, at around four per cent annually, for eight straight years with 393 million more people travelling internationally for tourism between 2008 and 2017.

Here in Jamaica we have been attracting a fair share of that market, as just last week we were told by the tourism authorities that the island earned US$2.2 billion from tourism between January and August this year.

The Ministry of Tourism says its target is for Jamaica to welcome five million tourists by 2021; generate US$5 billion in earnings; increase total direct jobs to 125,000; and add 15,000 hotel rooms.

Those are ambitious targets, but if we accept United Nations Secretary-general António Guterres' view that, “Tourism has become a pillar of economies, a passport to prosperity, and a transformative force for improving millions of lives”, then we must do all we can to harness its power.

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