Centre of gravity has moved east to Asia – UNWTO
By Roy Silva
The outpouring activity in travel and tourism has
overwhelmed the economic sectors and the centre of
gravity has moved east to Asia. It has become a
major player not only in tourism but in many, many
spheres, said Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of
the United Nations World Tourim Organisation (UNWTO)
on Thursday in Colombo.
“The year 2010 recorded a 7 per cent growth. 935
million visitors crossed international borders. And
it was five times as much in domestic tourism. China
alone recorded over 2 billion domestic trips within
one year,” said Dr. Rifai opening the inaugural
session of the three day 23rd Joint Meeting of the
UNWTO Commission for South Asia and the UNWTO
Commission for East Asia and the Pacific; and UNWTO
Conference on Mainstreaming Tourism in the Media
held at the Colombo Hilton..
The UNWTO chief also said that one of the main
reasons why they were in Colombo, Sri Lanka was to
render the Organisation’s support to the government
of Sri Lanka in its endeavours to revitalize the
island’s tourism industry.
Dr. Rifai also commended the country’s new slogan,
Refreshingly Sri Lanka’ as it portrayed a new image
of Sri Lanka and evoked a sense of peace and
tranquility which contrasted with the difficult
years which were now history.
“We are at the beginning of the second decade of
the 21st century. And what decade it was. It started
with the September 11 and ended with the most
difficult economic crisis since World War II. It was
a decades of so many challenges and also so many
opportunities and success stories. A decade that
brought so many disasters, and tsunamis we are all
aware of, pandemics, wars, conflicts, crises both
natural and man made. Yet the human spirit prevailed
and tourism proved to be one of the most resilient
and promising industries of these decades,” said the
The period had also seen some major breakthroughs
taking place. 2010 has been one of the most
remarkable turnarounds in the history. 2009 had been
one of the most difficult years in the industry
where the industry recorded a negative growth, Dr.
This outpouring activity in travel and tourism had
overwhelmed the economic sectors. Countries that
were not spoken of as source markets had emerged
very quickly. China, Brazil, Russia, India, had
become major players, he observed.
He also noted that domestic tourism created much
activity and regional solidarity had become a very
important feature and intra regional travel was
getting more and more important.
Dr. Rifai also emphasized on the dominance of IT and
outpouring of technological advancement and said
that it was changing our lives. “Who would have
thought that today, with the use of the mobile
phone, you could make a booking, check into an
airline, go into a hotel, download the map of the
city of Colombo, decide which monument to visit. All
this had been possible through the technological
advancements,” he noted.
Commenting on tourist traffic, he said that 204
million visitors crossed borders in the Asia Pacific
alone last year and it was 23 million additional
arrivals over 2009. And it was expected to grow. The
growth was 13 per cent as against the 7 per cent of
global growth, almost twice as much.
2011 also promises to be a globally very important
year where economies are going to be consolidated
may be not as good as 2010, he said.
“Since 2010, I have had the opportunity to
present the case of tourism to over 20 heads of
state and government and it is heartening to note
that they have been very supportive of our noble
cause of positioning tourism higher on the global
agenda. We have also joined hands with the World
Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to present an Open
Letter to leaders of governments highlighting travel
and tourism as one of the world’s biggest generators
of sustainable businesses and jobs, a powerful
driver of socio-economic growth and development and
a key player in the transformation to the Green
Economy,” said Dr. Rifai.
Continuing his observations on growth, Dr. Rifai
said that the Asia Pacific region was particularly
buoyant. It had been the first region to experience
recovery, and it had been able to maintain growth
momentum till it hit a new historic record of 204
million in the international tourist arrivals. Its
13 per cent growth had doubled the world average and
with 23 million additional arrivals over 2009. Asia
had become the strongest growing region. In keeping
with that growth scenario, Sri Lanka had recorded an
outstanding 46 per cent – a strong rebound over the
decline of past years. 2011 promised to continue the
growth trend of 2010 albeit at a more moderate rate
ranging between 4 to 5 per cent worldwide and 7 t 9
per cent in the case of Asia Pacific region, said
the UNWTO chief.
Commenting on the theme of the conference, Dr.
Rifai said that it was very apt as it reflected the
broader initiative of the UNWTO in mainstreaming
tourism in the global agenda.
The remarkable growth rate registered recently
proves Sri Lanka’s strong capacity to attract
tourism, observed the UNTWO chief, who added that
the world needed to know that fact, and the UNWTO
conference with its focus on the media should serve
the propose of raising awareness about what Sri
Lanka had achieved.
“We shall also analyze how tourism can be a key
vehicle to overcome adverse publicity and to rebuild
the image of a country. This is precisely why we
organized a media trip before this conference to
enable our media friends to have first hand
experience of the numerous cultural and natural
attractions of this beautiful country,” said Dr.
The UNWTO Secretary General announced that the
world body was already halfway through with its
technical assistance on the branding exercise which
the UNWTO had identified as a key lament in Sri
Lanka’s ongoing 2011 Visit Sri Lanka campaign.
“We will be equally honoured to take Sri Lanka’s
third Tourism Development Master Plan a step further
from the draft project document we submitted in
January last year to the stage of the formulation of
the master plan,” said Dr. Rifai.
Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana, Deputy Minister of
Economic Development, in his address said that the
UNWTO conference was timely as it coincided with an
economic watershed and towards prosperity for our
“The significant growth of arrivals is just one
indication of the rapid economic recovery. There is
a massive infrastructure development taking place in
the country with a new international airport,
seaport and highways,” said Mr. Abeywardena.
Deputy Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardhana greeting
Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of UNWTO after
presenting him with a memento.