The Closing Ceremony of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017: The Way Forward-Our Journey to 2030 was held at Palais des Nations in Geneva on the 19th of this month. I was one of the privileged attendees whose invitation request was previously UNWTO reviewed and approved.

I consider myself blessed of having had the opportunity to learn and grow this much through the calendar of events for the IY2017 for Sustainable Tourism. It opened my eyes even further on the immense potential this sector can play in positively impacting a number of other areas connected to sustainability. The International year as well as all the rigorous work behind it were put together through this “SDGs lens”, to foster, enable and accelerate the achievement of the 2030 agenda on sustainable development.

The impact of the event in terms of carbon emission was offset via My Climate, a Swiss Foundation active in climate change through a project in Uganda called ‘Clean Drinking Water for Schools and Households’ with the primary objective of  disseminating water purification systems to low-income households and institutions such as schools. To learn more: Clean Water Project.

A gathering dense of knowledge and inspiration that set the scene in support of the roadmap to 2030 that was introduced during the session. 


Excellences, Ministries and representatives from both public and private sectors participated in this closing ceremony, despite the closing being actually only the start of this long journey towards the achievement of the 17 SDGs. Lets remind us these 17 SDGs before going deeper into the strategy and policies aligned for their achievement.

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These posters were part of the exposition at the meeting. Some highlights from the closing Ceremony below for you to enjoy, appreciate and spread.

Sandra Carvao, Chief Communications and Publications from UNWTO was the Master of Ceremony to introduce the first five speakers for the Opening Remarks. 

“In December 2015 United Nations General Assembly designated 2017 as the Year for sustainable development among leaders, stakeholders and decision makers from both the public and the private sector.

It has also been an unique opportunity to engage world travellers in making Tourism a catalyst for positive changes. It is very true: last year has been extremely rich in outstanding partnerships and actions.

We are coming together for the closing ceremony of the 2017 International Year for Sustainable development to reflect on the achievements of the year but most importantly we come together to look into the future”.

Watch the videoOpening Remarks.

Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of UNWTO

Charles Darwin once said : 

« It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change».

The world today is at major transformation’s junctions: rapid and fast change is the essence of our time. Organizations, digital transformation as well as travel and tourism. And despite the many competing challenges affecting all economic sector, and agaist all odds, travel and tourism distinguishes itself from other economic sectors for its continuous growth.

In 2016 despite major challenges, such as security challenges, economic challenges, natural disasters, International tourist arrivals grew by 3.9% to reach a total of 1,235 million. Some 46 million more tourists (overnight visitors) travelled internationally last year compared to 2015. 2017 growth from January to October corresponds to a robust 7% increase, well above the growth of previous years. Almost one out of 6 people that will make an international trip every year generate 3.2 billion dollars every day in expenditure, creating 1 out of 10 jobs all over the world, generating 10.2 % of  world GDP.

By 2030, 1,2 million today will become 1,8 million visitors. Beyond the numbers and figures, travel and tourism is today a major contributor to the transformation gradually bringing us together as human beings like never before. Together with other forces of globalisation  travel makes the new world even smaller, more connected, and more importantly a more involved, more concerned, more caring world. Travel breaks down barriers and stereotypes, leaving us to experience the beauty of our nature. Mark Twain wrote:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Travel opens minds, eyes, it opens hearts: we become better people when we travel. Travel has become today a way of life, it is not just a human need or a fantasy, it has become a human right. 

Yet, with growth comes power, with power comes responsibility: 1.8 million travellers can be 1.8 million opportunities or 1.8 million disasters.

We need to ensure that 1.8 million travellers can and will be managed for opportunities such as inclusive economic growth, more and better jobs,  for better knowing and respecting each others, for protecting our natural world. These opportunities are the essence of the SDGs, our common agenda for 2030. Since the United Nations 70th General Assembly designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, we worked to promote the value and the contribution of Sustainable Tourism to:

The 2017, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, has been once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us to come together to make travel one of the biggest human activity of the 21st century and a catalyst for positive change.

The International Year will not end in December 2017.

The calendar year maybe, not the work. All the work we have done together will extend in the coming years; we are to ensure that Tourism can make an effective contribution to the 17 sustainable development goals. We’d like to see more countries with tourism international strategies to achieve their SDGs giving our sector the recognition it deserves: A key pillar for a better world. We’d like to see more stakeholders make the most of the tourism potential, impact products internationally with positive changes in our economy and society.

As we move ahead we’d like to invite you to join us in this positive transformative journey. We are sharing today very important findings on Sustainable Tourism for Development, 2017: The Way Forward-Our Journey to 2030. Today we close a chapter only to open another one: a chapter where we can all together make a big difference.

I am reminded by the words of Swiss adventurer, Ella Maillart

“You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you with yourself”

This year we have celebrated Travel.Enjoy.Respect: we need to respect the people, respect the countries, respect culture, respect nature, respect history because by doing so we end up respecting ourselves. We don’t go to places we don’t respect, we don’t feel good to go to places we do not respect.

One final thought: whatever business you do, no matter how successful you are, our core business in life will always be to make the world a better place. 

Rest assured that we will all work so hard to achieve these objectives.

Watch the video: Taleb Rifai.

Gloria Guevara, President and CEO, World Tourism & Travel Council (WTTC)

“The International year for sustainable development has been an opportunity to tell our story. In WTTC we monitor the economic impact for 185 countries and 25 geographic or economic regions in the world. Read more at:

We know that the Travel & Tourism sector contributes to 10% of world GDP. We create 300 millions jobs, we have forecasted for the next 10 years, 30 million additional jobs in our sector. It enables the SDGs, to respect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Sustainable development is one of the 3 priorities in WTTC: during the Bangkok summit in April 2017 we announced, “Transforming our world”.
To read more:
We launched sustainable reporting and just last week we had the opportunity to launch “Managing overcrowded Tourism destinations”. As we plan for 2018, sustainable development is crucial in order to drive this conversation on better planning, managing tourism growth and most importantly on protecting our assets, cultural and natural assets, as we know that our sector needs to continue with this wide response on climate change. How does Travel & Tourism play an important role in different areas: from reducing illegal trafficking to inclusive job creation”.

Watch the video: Gloria Guevara.

Michael Moller, Director General, United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)

“Welcome to Palais des Nations and welcome to Geneva. Everything we do here is wrapped in our common roadmap: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Thinking about the relationship between Tourism and the 2030 agenda, first of all there is a great promise of tourism to advance the 17 sustainable development goals. Just considering two things that we need to achieve to deliver on the agenda: one is money, economic growth; and two is mindset, to foster shared global understanding that no matter where we come from, we are in this together so all of us have a responsibility to contribute to the realization of this agenda.

Tourism can deliver on both! The economic growth is immense, but beyond size it is the quality of the economic growth that generates that is important: local and direct growth.

Regarding mindset, travel as Twain once put it, is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. However beyond its benefit and role, Tourism is actually a bit more ambivalent: take time change  and the big challenges of our time where tourism is a big player.

Because Tourism is all of the above, economic growth, cultural understanding, as well as cause and victim of the environmental changes, it is such a great stakeholder for the 2030 agenda. The point is that the potential upside is only matching the scale of the downside. That is why it is so important that we succeed in making Tourism Sustainable, by making sustainable economic tourism environment culturally accepted.

As you look ahead, know that the International Geneva is with you. Whether you are looking for best practices to share, or partnerships to collaborate with, Geneva with 178 member States representatives, with over 40 international institutions, organizations, bodies and secretariats, and 2’700 members of non-governmental organizations, Universities and International Companies, it is the place where you can find both”.

Watch the video: Michael Moller.

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Chairman, Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization, Jordan

“Whatever we are, wherever we are, we should be thinking at planning for the future. In our Organisation we committed to strive to achieve the way forward to 2030. I personally believe that if we want to live the UNWTO legacy, we must try to do what we should do. This includes the empowerment of ICT technology for the future of tourism. Our mission should be to work towards transforming the Tourism Industry to become smart. On this note, I am honored that my Organization in China has received the mandate of creating a global smart tourism centre in order to develop smart tourism technologies for Tourism access and development, both ways. This centre will be supported by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh online University, by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh University for Applied Business and IT and 110 offices worldwide. By smart Tourism we can double the contribution to the GDP, to the job creation, to economic development”.

Watch the video: Talal Abu-Ghazaleh.

Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, State Secretary Economic Affairs, Switzerland

Sustainability development is more important than ever. Several questions come to my mind:

what is the impact of tourism; what is the actual return for the local population; how can Switzerland concretely contribute in this context.

Switzerland contributes to the three dimensions of sustainable tourism: 1) at the economic dimension, which aims primarily at strengthening the economic development of all regions and communities; 2) at the environmental dimension, which strives to protect and develop the natural and cultural heritage; 3) and finally at the social dimension, which improves the quality of life for local communities. These dimensions are being accelerated by the phenomenon of digitalisation.  In the context of deeper connectivity, knowledge transfer is becoming increasingly important. Digitalisation while bringing new challenges to the tourism sector, can at the same time provides interesting opportunities, such as for example stronger promotion of so called ‘regional destinations’. The Swiss Secretary for Economic Affairs has been active in sustainable tourism for years; in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Tunisia. With our expertise in development and sustainable destinations, we pursue innovative approaches and foster public-private partnerships. At the core of the Swiss operations, there are targeted regional policies, innovative concepts of sustainable destinations, organizations, new environmental technologies to improve the efficiency of tourism locations. And the major goal is to strengthen competitiveness and right access for the local SMEs active in tourism. This includes of course Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Our approach with regard to Tourism consists of taking concepts from sustainable tourism that are implemented in Switzerland and to tailor them to the specific needs of the countries. We do this based on pre-analysis over the months and of course on the basis of national tourism strategy of each market. Indeed, sustainability is an essential concept also for Switzerland National Tourism Policy and it is considered as a guiding principle for actions in Swiss National Policy. Numerous sustainability-oriented instruments are integrated in our policies. As an unique feature of our internal Organization, the Swiss Secretary for Economic Affairs covers both, the national and the international prospective. Therefore the Tourism department that looks at improving sustainable instruments in Switzerland is located in the same sit as the international department leading the development cooperation that looks and focuses at sustainability tourism in development policies. Coordination between the two areas is key to ensure a transfer of skills and specific Swiss expertise in tourism development. This year Switzerland has launched a city project called ‘Tourism for SDGs platform’. At the international level and under the leadership of the UNWTO, this platform will provide a roadmap for tourism stakeholders for the implementation and achievement of the 2030 agenda of the universal 17 SDGs. In this roadmap, we focus on three aspects: knowledge transfer, concrete policies exchange, and stakeholders empowerment; it inspires stakeholders to act, which actually means defining implementation policies. The platform will include a co-creation space for the tourism sector that will embrace sustainable practices and demonstrate its engagement. It will also integrate an interactive web platform with the aim at sharing good practices to spark innovative ideas as well as to monitor progress and results.  In the future, a strong international cooperation of all relevant actors involved should become the driving force to promote sustainable tourism and to implement tourism policies efficiently. This is what the International Year of sustainable tourism and today’s closing ceremony is actually all about: sharing best practices and concrete policies to increase sustainability in tourism and to create long term employment.

Watch the video: Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch.

Sandra Carvao opens the second part of the Ceremony looking at ‘A Year in review’.

“We had 365 days to actually share with the world what was for many a secret around how our sector plays an incredible role in sustainable development, unity and peace of the global community: sustainably, environmentally, economically and socially, culturally and spiritually. We have had a year of learning together, of growing together through the championing of UNWTO with Dr. Rifai. So what did we learn?”

King Simeon II, Special Ambassador of the IY2017 opened the Introductory Remarks for this session of speakers and panels’ discussions.

“Tourism can only keep on growing, hence we are all working for something that not only is advancing, but something that is helping and moving in a positive direction which are strong motivators for all of us, and especially for those that will benefit from it the most.

We do have a mission, that we all have to take seriously if we believe that a better world is achievable.

Marcio Favilla, Executive Director for Operational Programmes and Institutional Relations, UNWTO

“The IY2017 originated from a long-term project that landed in the recognition by the International community of the importance of tourism. UNWTO was designated to lead its implementation so we created a Steering Committee coordinated by the Prime Minister of Samoa, Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and with many of our member States, regional Chairs, private and public sector, Academia, Global Tourism Associations and NGOs. The objective was to raise awareness of the contribution of tourism for sustainable development, to mobilize relevant stakeholders to make the sector a catalyst for positive changes and foster business practices and global policies to enable Tourism. The Steering Committee guided us, and thus established these objectives for us, together with the 5 areas of focus throughout the year:

  • Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
  • Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction (within the social sustainability pillar)
  • Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
  • Mutual understanding, peace and security
  • Cultural values, Diversity and heritage

These 5 areas have been addressed in different ways throughout the year with a number of activities:

  • We established a calendar of 14 official events; we started with the opening ceremony in Madrid and finishing with the closing ceremony in Geneva. Some of the 12 other events were major International conferences resulting in official documents, i.e. 6th UNWTO International Conference on Tourism Statistics: Measuring Sustainable Tourism in the Philippines; High-level/Ministerial Segment on “Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals & Building Partnerships for Development: the Example of the Belt and Road Initiative” in China; IY2017 Official Event: Promoting Sustainable Tourism a Tool for Inclusive Growth and Community Engagement in Zambia; UNWTO, Government of Jamaica, World Bank Group and Inter-American Development Bank Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism in Jamaica; 2017 International Symposium and Annual Conference of the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme: Empowering Tourism Destinations’ Sustainability in Oman. In these five events we had outcome Documents that defined the clear Roadmap for the future in the key areas of sustainability for the 2030 agenda. We have also been developing content, substantial material to address the 5 areas.
  • Two flagship reports:
    1. “Sustainable tourism for Development”—that will be presented in March in Berlin. This document has been shared with all Member States and different stakeholders for suggestions, comments as well as receiving cases on positive and negative impact of Tourism. We have received 135 cases to sustain Tourism for development.
    2. “Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals: Journey to 2030” report, addressing the links between tourism and the SDGs and setting an agenda for the sector towards 2030. We hope we can support and foster changes in public and private policies and strategies and also inspire changes in consumer’s behavior during travel. That means inspiring and fostering changes in mindsets.
  • We have also developed a website so that people will follow; and we have opened up the possibility to people around the world to register their initiatives, linking up them to the SDGs. We have received 1,032 different initiatives with solutions, stories, and research and knowledge development.
  • We have developed a consumer-oriented campaign: Travel.Enjoy.Respect based on the tips for travelers developed by our Committee on World Tourism Ethics. This is the first time that UNWTO spoke directly to the travelers with the support of many partners companies from around the world.
  • We also launched the traveler’s competition: we received 2,500 applications. Katie, the winner has been around many countries, ending the trip here in Geneva where she has been activating her blog on what it is like to travel in a sustainable way.

As we move forward, the International year is just a platform, the important platform is to make Tourism a catalyst force for change and a transformative force for good towards the achievement of the Universal goals of the 2030 agenda.

How do we actually move forward? In 2015 as mentioned, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal 2030 agenda for sustainable development with the 17 sustainable development goals working to make sure that people, planet, prosperity and peace all come together through partnerships. As we all know, Tourism can be an incredible powerful vehicle to promote and reach the milestones of the SDGs. Tourism exclusively features in goal 8, 12 and 14. What is wonderful to see is that goal number 1 for example: alleviation of poverty is something that touches us all. And we know that all the 17 SDGs works symbiotically: they all connect in one-way or another to move the agenda forward.

Watch the video: Marcio Favilla.

Watch the video: First Panel.

Maria Luisa Silva, Director of the UNDP Office in Geneva

The United Nations have put together a common framework called MAPS that stands for: Mainstreaming, which leads 40 countries in integrating the SDGs in national development plans, in local development plans but also in institutional and environmental framework; it also stands for Acceleration and this is very important because it means identifying measures that can contribute to accelerate progress; and finally it stands for Policy Support. 

What is important for today’s meeting is that almost 60% of the roadmap that has been developed today has various explicit references to Sustainable Tourism in the context of the SDGs implementation. Not only Tourism is referred to in the 3 sustainable development goals as it has been previously said,

what is also important to say is that in 50-60% of this roadmap developed today, Tourism is identified as a sector that has the potential to ACCELERATE the attainment of all SDGs. Nevertheless, this acceleration is not automatic and risks are to be managed and opportunities are to be seized.

The second finding is that SDGs implementation calls for all of governmental approaches as well as for policies coherence. There starts to be some awareness of the linkages between Tourism and the SDGs but its not yet enough. We need to go deeper in understanding and translating even stronger the linkages cross-sector and policies areas.

The third finding is the role of the private sector in the SDGs that will provide opportunities for the private sector itself, i.e. in water and energy efficiency, sustainable based agriculture and nature based Tourism. For example we know that water accounts for 10% GDP in many hotels; therefore hotels can reduce that by up to 50% through advanced technologies and best practices and this will be also contributing to the goal 14, life beyond water.

The final finding regards sources. The implementation of 2030 agenda requires stepping up the finances for development, moving from billion to trillion US Dollars. Obviously the sources are to be mobilized from all directions: domestically and internationally, public and private.

Watch the video: Maria Luisa Silva.

Zoritsa Urosevic, Representative of UNWTO to the United Nations in Geneva

Why did we engage in undertaking this approach with UNDP?

The 2030 agenda is universal, so our partnership with UNDP is very much oriented in delivering in the countries and in developing countries. This is not all. So far we know that Tourism cannot exist if private sector doesn’t exist, if we have no operations. So we needed to understand:

what the private sector does? what the public sector does? and what the financial Institutions do in developing and developed countries. In EU for example, marine reservation is sustaining all the efforts for job creation but in developing countries we needed basic development education. We cannot cover all in the same way.

We started from the beginning, from what we had. 64 VNRs amongst varies developed and developing countries have submitted their plans. Secondly, what we thought to be important was to survey large based private sector Companies. The only way we could do that is by looking at public reports, from which we matched their Corporate Social Responsibility strategies with the SDGs. What we found is that the weight of the Companies we surveyed, is 430 billion turnover representing about 2 million jobs in the Tourism Industry, in accommodation, operation and transport. The third element we surveyed during our International Review is: What are the goals they are already proposing as their priority and which ones they want to achieve.

41 out of 64 are mentioning tourism but strange enough only 13 out of these 64 had been receiving the input and the drive from the Tourism Ministry or government structures. This means that we as Tourism government bodies, ministries, have a key role to play for the future.

On the analysis from the 41 countries that mentioned Tourism, the biggest in importance is the 8, economic development, inclusive growth and job creation. The second most important is 12, responsible consumption and production and the third one is 17, partnership for development. This is the difference from the agenda with the number 14 linked to Tourism instead. But this shows as well the very prospective nature of the Industry that we are working on and this shows the potential that Industry can change with an impact in the economic sector.


There are not just opportunities but also risks and challenges: climate change and peace and security are for example threats; this gives us a barometer on what we should proposing on in the future and how we can move on in a very strong and articulate manner.

The private sector analysis shows the following: goal 12 prevails by 700 mention for the 60 Companies we surveyed. This is a very clear indication that competitiveness is the key business driver for sustainability. If we want the private sector to be sustainable it has to be competitive, and resource efficiency is the key way to achieve that. As much as tourism is oriented in the understanding of the public sector as the economic ‘powerhouse’, the private sector acts locally and the potential impact locally is huge. Not only the goal 12 here is mentioned, but also climate change is there and poverty and quality education are 2 very important impacts. Therefore Tourism, private sector and businesses are good for the people. This has to be recognized by policy makers to facilitate and enable the partnership.

In the case of the financing Institution interestingly enough, we have highlighted that amongst the developing countries supporting their roadmap to the SDGs, we can see that goal 16 on peace, goal 5 on gender, 8 on economic growth, 13 on climate and 1 on poverty reductions are the priorities for the donors. Thus, we should be smart tomorrow when we start to think of financing Tourism, we should connect with these priorities in order to stimulate the mindset of donors to add Tourism in their priorities.

Some key findings are that the public policy makers has to be more active at their national level in both, the shaping of national policies and voluntary national reviews.

The key issue for the private sector: competitiveness is the key driver of sustainability. We need this world to empower SMEs because whether we start from big Companies and multinationals, what we need this world to do is to scale up the capacity of small and medium enterprises. Finally for the financing Institution, aids should relate to countries’ strategy and needs. There is also a lot of room for innovation and cooperation and what we have experienced during this international year is certainly an amazing example of how much uptake interest there is out there from the private sector to engage and make Tourism accessible to all. This is a very initial piece of work that is going to be updated every two years with different partners.

From the roadmap you can again see the priorities on goal 12, sustainable consumption and production, goal 11, cities and communities, goal 14, water and 7, affordable and clean energy.

Watch the video: Zoritsa Urosevic.

Watch the video: Second Panel.


Closing Remarks-Taleb Rifai

My only message to you today in the closing is: We need to think as what we really mean by ‘sustainable’. What is sustainability?

Sustainability is to sustain life on earth; it doesn’t mean at all to freeze things as they are and never touch anything on the environment in our countries. It is always an evolving math: growth and progress at one hand, preservation and sustainability on the other hand are not competing. Progress is never the enemy, growth is never the enemy.

We should never hesitate to elevate life on earth for those in this world that will benefit from it the most.

If we do not progress, we will regress. If we regress, life on earth stops. We should never understand sustainability as freezing living things, where we are, who we are and what we do. This is not the objective. We should having human interference to do things on the environment, to do things in our countries but to do the right things, those ones that will preserve the essence of the nature and the character of our places.

Watch the video: Closing Remarks.

Following the agenda, we had the Montego Bay Declaration on ‘Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism’ signed officially by the Government of Jamaica and UNWTO.

Watch the video: Montego Bay Declaration.

What an inspiring afternoon not only for the engagement, commitment and dedication of  many distinguished personalities, but also for the nature of the subject itself.

Travel and earth: 2 vital factors that only coexist together in the equation of life. Travel makes the world a better and more peaceful place that on the other end returns us the favour with its astonishing beauties and timeless gifts.

How to say it better….







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