Monday, September 30, 2013

China now the focus of many global travelers, UNWTO chief says

MALE - The profile of the global traveler is changing and Europe is no more the center of attraction, according to UN World Tourist Organization (UNWTO), Dr. Taleb Rifai.

China, he told reporters at a media briefing on the sidelines of the World Tourism Day official celebrations held last week in the Maldives, is now the focus of many receiving markets.

The UNWTO chief bestowed accolades on the attraction of the Maldives to foreign visitors, saying, “This place is simply magic. It is truly unparalleled on Earth.”

The Maldives was picked to host this year’s official World Tourism Day celebrations, which was held last year in the Canary Islands while next year it moves to Mexico.

“World Tourism Day this is the center of our celebrations which we hold in special places. Maldives is special and in particular because the topic of discussion is on the theme ‘tourism and water,’” he told the official opening ceremony on Friday, attending by Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed and Tourism, Arts & Culture Minister Admed Adeeb. The focus of this year’s celebration was also sustainable development of the tourism industry.

Dr. Rifai said the Maldives is a unique example of how tourism can do good, if well managed.

There are 100 resorts in the Maldives mostly catering to the up-market traveler, which are self-managing in terms of water production (through de-salinization) and sewage disposal among other initiatives.

Last year more than one billion travelers crossed borders with 1 of every 7 people in the world making an international trip. Dr. Rifai added, “We need to manage it well and turn this into one billion opportunities instead of one billion disasters.”

In his address, President Waheed described the Maldives as an archipelago that stretches across over 1,000 kilometers of mostly water and less land mass.

“We have been sailors, boat builders and fishermen until 40 years ago tourism became a reality. Our oceans are at risk, our islands are at risk. Climate change and global warming is more severe to the Maldives than most people think,” he noted.

He said out of the 191 inhabited islands, 113 are threatened by salt water intrusion and coastal erosion.

The event was also the occasion to launch the Maldives 4th Tourism Masterplan which focuses mostly on infrastructure development and increasing the number of Maldivians employed in the tourism sector, among other proposals.

The one-day conference that included a panel discussion on the theme of the meeting was held in the backdrop of opposition protests in the capital, Male, which is about 10-15 minutes away by speedboat from the Kurumba Maldives resort where the meeting was held.

Dr. Rifai, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the celebrations, said the UN body wanted to hold the meeting in the Maldives, despite the issues, at a time when the people of the Maldives are deciding their future.

Commenting on the crisis, he said travelers across the world are today acutely aware of political, social, and economic issues and that this is part of life.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party is protesting against a Supreme Court ruling to suspend the second round presidential vote until a verdict is reached in a petition against the first round election. The opposition is also urging tourism workers to protest.

The second round poll was scheduled to have been held on Saturday, September 28.

Ahmed Adeeb, Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture told reporters at the same briefing with Dr. Rifai that they were concerned by Nasheed’s call.

“This will affect the entire industry. Politics should not be brought into tourism. Tourism workers I believe won’t abide by the call but if they do it will be a big backlash (in the industry),” he said. Maldivian resort owners also expressed concern over the call for protests. Tourism is the Maldives main foreign exchange earner.


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