World Tourism Day 2021

Making tourism fit for the future

Antje Monshausen
Woman looking through Telescope_Uganda
© Slim Emcee_Unsplash

Since 50 years, the international community celebrates World Tourism Day annually on September 27. On this day, the World Tourism Organization, which hosts the celebrations, recognizes the potential of tourism for sustainable development. In 2021, the theme is "Tourism and Inclusive Growth". For the eighth year in a row, the focus is on the economic potential of tourism. The ecological challenges were highlighted the last time in 2013. It is even more than 10 years ago, that World Tourism Day focused on climate change in 2008. Meanwhile, the emissions of travel grew by 25 percent.

The social impact of tourism tends to be an ornamental feature on World Tourism Day – also this year, where the attribute "inclusive" was somewhat artificially placed in front of the word "growth". It is clear: Growth is the family name, inclusive only the "first name". The World Tourism Organization has its eye on the old growth model, rather than the urgent need to transform tourism in a world that keeps heating up.

Still, this year’s topic has some potential: In its background paper, the World Tourism Organization explicitly refers to the "leave no one behind" approach by the United Nations. It addresses the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic especially on the poorest and most marginalized. This also counts for climate change: the least vulnerable are those who can afford air conditioners, flood walls and second homes to (at least temporarily) protect themselves from heat, wildfires and floodings. The most affected are people in the Global South – women, indigenous groups, smallholder farmer and fishermen. To focus on them and ensuring that tourism has a positive impact on their lives is the order of the day.

Tourism policy understood as a global structural challenge to set the course of the world’s most dynamic economic sector towards the future, should focus on at least these three topics:

  1. Climate change and emission reduction
  2. Human rights in labor and protection of children
  3. Political participation of local communities

Today’s World Tourism Day takes place one day after the German general elections. Therefore, our demands are not only directed at the World Tourism Organization. They are also addressed to German political decision makers. Tourism is not a sunshine topic. The urgency of climate and social challenges deserve the utmost attention to ensure developments towards a better future.

It is time to act now – change will either come by design or by disaster.

Several NGOs and networks have published statements on the occasion of World Tourism Day. Here is a selection: 

  • Naturefriends International demands legal obligation that oblige companies to take responsibility for people and the environment – along the entire supply chain.

  • The child protection organization ECPAT International emphasizes the relevance of child protection when relaunching tourism after COVID-19.

  • Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda (STTA) takes the occasion of this year’s theme to call for immediate efforts to dismantle oppressive patriarchal power structures.

  • Tourism Alert and Action Forum (TAAF) calls to withdraw startegies that increase the dependency from international tourism and to create self-sustaining futures.
Further contents

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In many destinations, climate change puts the future of tourism at stake. Apart from mitigation, adaptation will be a major challenge.

Unsustainably Resilient?

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Resilience is the new buzz word. It is more than just returning to the old tourism models - which were neither sustainable nor resilient - but to learn from the crises to be better prepared for the next one.

Brazil: Not Yet an Option

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Disrespectful behaviour, waste and noise pollution, lack of interest, and now COVID-19. In Brazil the risks that domestic tourism entails for traditional communities seem bigger than the opportunities.

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