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UNWTO pledges support to aid Lebanon’s recovery

Tourism industry leaders call for tourism to be used as a tool for peace

Francesco Frangialli, UNWTO secretary general, has called on world leaders to use the power of tourism to build new global bridges of understanding between states.

Talking at a meeting of more than 60 tourism ministers from Islamic countries, held in Baku, Azerbaijan early last month, Frangialli urged members of the UNWTO to use tourism as a means to promote cross cultural understanding.

He emphasised that “people-to-people contacts, which can only be provided through tourism, would do much to counter the vague generalisations and confused perceptions that too often convey distorted images of countries, cultures, traditions and religions.”

Frangialli said, “Islam, which encourages travel for pilgrimage, has many characteristics in common with tourism such as tolerance, openness and hospitality. This is the reason why so many Muslim countries have long established themselves as successful destinations on the world tourism map. And in so doing, help to diversify their economies, create jobs for young people and, at the same time, revitalise their cultural heritage and awareness.”

UNWTO supports such initiatives and through its Global Code of Ethics, promotes the kind of tourism which advances sustainable development, cultural diversity and heritage preservation. The Code also calls on visitors and host communities to show mutual respect and understanding for each others beliefs and lifestyles.

In his speech, Frangialli also noted that in the past three years, despite the continuous challenge of man made and natural disasters, tourism has remained remarkably resilient.

The need to travel for leisure, business, health or even for religious purposes is now deeply ingrained in our modern society; this tends to solidify tourism demand and gives the industry the capability to overcome all the obstacles it encounters on the path of growth. The UNWTO estimates that the number of international tourist arrivals in 2005 topped 800 million, a 5.5% increase following the 10% surge registered the preceding year.

Frangialli said that it was the duty of the UNWTO to accompany this expansion with support and solidarity with those of its members whose economies and societies are from time to time suffering from crises situations.

“This is why — in the same way that our General Assembly met in China in 2003 in the wake of the SARS epidemic, and our Executive Council met in emergency session in Phuket, Thailand, one month after the tsunami — we will do our best to hold our Regional Commission for the Middle East before the end of the year in Beirut, Lebanon — a country bruised by conflict.

“In this way, we wish to send a strong message of determination and confidence to the tourism industry of Lebanon, and the world in general, that we believe in the peaceful redevelopment of this country, neighbouring countries, and of the [Middle East] region as a whole,” Frangialli remarked.

The tourism economy in Beirut was brought to a standstill by this summer’s conflict. Hotels in Beirut saw occupancies plummet from the high 90s to less than 10% within days of the Israeli bombardment.

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