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Looking beyond recovery

Danial Norjidi

Outcomes of the 11th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Tourism Ministerial Meeting were highlighted by the meeting’s Chair, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn on August 19, attended by ministers and senior representatives from the 21 APEC member economies.

In his statement on the ‘Tourism of the Future: Regenerative Tourism’, the Chair said, “At the top of the APEC 2022 agenda is our region’s response to COVID-19 and ongoing challenges. The opportunity to build a better and more resilient future will continue to be our main endeavour.

“Significant new uncertainties and challenges have heightened the need to harness our cooperation and advance work on sustainable tourism, to achieve our vision of an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040. We will continue to convene inclusive dialogues among sustainability champions, and to reflect on the pathways and progress towards rebuilding a stronger and more resilient tourism sector.

“Our dialogue canvasses the existing challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Together we will work to rebuild tourism for the future.”

The statement ensures that no one is left behind which is a key strategic pathway towards the rapid recovery.

“We, therefore, commit to promote safe, accessible and inclusive tourism for all. We will strive to ensure that our tourist destinations, facilities, products and services are increasingly accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age. Implementing universal design and inclusive communications can open tourism and travel to a substantial new market of people with disabilities, aging citizens, totalling an approximate 435 million people in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

“This can give our tourism industries an immense opportunity to develop and grow,” said Ratchakitprakarn.

“As various sectors cut across tourism, a strategy to achieve gender equality and gender mainstreaming in tourism policies need to be considered within its broader policy context, with leadership from policymakers at different levels, whose support can help ensure that the impacts on tourism-related policy initiatives are also considered.

“Gender equality and women’s empowerment are critical to an inclusive and sustainable recovery from COVID-19. Women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and, as the majority of the tourism workforce worldwide, women were also immensely impacted by business closures and reduced operations within this sector.

“With women being slower to return to pre-pandemic employment levels than men, it is critical that the recovery of the tourism sector is gender-responsive, including ensuring and advancing women’s full and equal participation and leadership in tourism enterprises, that women-owned and led businesses have equitable and sustained market access and linkages, in accordance with the La Serena Roadmap for Women and Inclusive Growth.

“We will conserve the unique biodiversity of each place, and respect the rich cultural diversity and knowledge of local communities, and will empower them to seize the economic opportunities that tourism can provide. Their cultures, languages, art forms and music are unique and can help draw many tourists to our region.

“We will promote their entrepreneurship, help strengthen their business skills and capacities in communities, and ensure tourism is respectful and environmentally sustainable.

“We concur that the next phase of tourism requires an approach that is firmly anchored ‘at place’.

“Thus, policies for place-based tourism that support inclusivity and equity need to uphold the values of a destination, the existing frameworks and governance, the priorities of local communities, and the values that they uphold. We will cooperate to further develop APEC’s work in these areas for other groups with untapped economic potential, such as indigenous peoples as appropriate, people with disabilities, and those from remote and rural communities,” he added.

According to a press release, during the meeting in Bangkok, ministers endorsed guidelines for rebuilding the tourism industry across the region through investment, the creation of employment opportunities, human resource development, occupational standards, and support for small businesses.

The guidelines, updating advice from the pre-COVID era, reflect the need to reduce barriers that have a direct impact on visitor exports and tourist flows in the region.

The guidelines cover seven guiding principles – respect local resource custodians, traditions and culture; enhance sustainable and responsible travel and tourism; encourage the exchange of information and open dialogue; foster human resource development, skills training and occupational standards tools for a stronger industry workforce including workers with disabilities; utilise innovative technologies to improve economic, social, cultural, and environmental well-being, as well as establish partnerships; identify synergies and utilise resources through public-private partnership to encourage tourism investment in the APEC region; and strengthening the resiliency of tourism to prepare for future shocks.

The Chair said, “The guidelines for tourism stakeholders are founded on the values of sustainability, inclusivity, respect, responsibility, openness, innovation and partnership of their respective tourism sectors. We endeavour to use the guidelines to improve cooperation and coordination mechanisms to optimise the benefits of tourism within and across all APEC economies.”

Ministers also looked beyond recovery and set their sights on the long-term. They agreed that the future of tourism needs to contribute to all elements of wellbeing not only for travellers, but for local businesses, as well as their employees. It was shared that they welcomed the introduction of the ‘Policy Recommendations for Tourism of the Future:

Regenerative Tourism’, a set of policy recommendations covering concrete actions that member economies can consider in managing this next phase of the industry. They envision tourism that is regenerative in nature; does no harm and instead gives back by helping sustainable practices thrive, said the press release. It adds that ministers want to build an industry that responds to change and which will continue to thrive amid future crises.

The Chair’s statement mentions, “We uphold that transformative change towards regenerative pathways requires more than a simple scaling-up of sustainability initiatives.

It entails addressing overarching levers and leverage points to change systems. We reaffirm the end state of this regenerative process is that tourism must support positive change and sustainable economic development.

“On the transition pathway towards the desired future, we encourage economies to support businesses in the face of changing business conditions. Together, we will intensify capacity building to help people to adapt to the changing market conditions, digital economy and new ways of working, including through APEC projects. Governments can support businesses inthe transition.

“The future phase will involve applying experience and knowledge from key resilience activities and continuing to adapt. Thus, we encourage economies to strengthen exchanges and cooperation among tourism enterprises and personnel on sustainability, inclusiveness, increased digitalisation, and ongoing investment in tourism.”

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