WTO chief spins positives from regional crisis

As the countdown to war continues, tourism boss looks to positives during travel summit.

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By  John Irish Published  March 10, 2003

Francesco Frangialli, secretary general of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) today (March 10) claimed that whatever happened in the Gulf in the next few weeks, tourism historically had never suffered from an ongoing recession and would recover.

While outlining that perhaps the current climate was not the opportune moment to hold an event like the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) and to think of travel, relaxation, leisure and holidays, Frangialli was keen to diffuse some of the anxiety surrounding various sectors of the tourism industry.

“In 2001, despite the combination of the tragic attacks in New York and Washington and the worldwide economic downturn that had already begun even before the attacks, the number of international tourist arrivals fell by just 0.5%, while domestic tourism increased in all counties, as those who chose to travel did so to destinations close to home,” he told an audience at the ITB currently being held in Berlin, Germany.

“Despite an economy that was still in the doldrums, tourism managed to turn the trend around in 2002. With 715 million international arrivals representing an increase of 3%, the industry was back to positive growth. Although this recovery will in all likelihood be less spectacular when the revenue figures become known, it once again demonstrates our industry’s resilience.”

Although highlighting that the Americas had seen a drop in the number of tourist arrivals in 2002, Frangialli stressed that the biggest surprise, following the WTO’s report on international tourism last week, had been the 11% growth in international arrivals to the Middle East. Both Egypt and Dubai have also announced a continued rise in tourism traffic in the early part of 2003, despite the ongoing threat of war.

"The sector’s performance over the past few months confirms what I said here in Berlin last year. Our confidence is based on consumer behaviour. The need to travel, whether for business or leisure, is already too deeply ingrained in our societies to be easily effaced.

"In spite of all the obstacles and risks consumers may perceive, they will do what they can in order to travel even if it means reducing their expenditure, changing their destination, postponing their trip or shortening their stay,” he added.

Looking back at the Gulf War in 1991, Frangialli stressed that while no two situations were the same, after that particular crisis, tourism growth had only slowed down to 1.2%, but had not turned negative. He added that the following year the industry had posted an 8.3% jump.

“The tourism industry has always come out of crises in much better shape than it has gone into them. The economic and financial crisis of Asia-Pacific and Russia in 1997- 1998 is a clear example.These destinations came out of the recession stronger and more firmly on the road to sustainable development. We can see this happening once again,” he said.

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