Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event

Post originally Published November 1, 2023 || Last Updated November 1, 2023

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Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - When and Where World Tourism Day Takes Place

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event

Each year on September 27th, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) hosts World Tourism Day, a global event that highlights the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political, and economic value. The event brings together key stakeholders from the tourism sector, including government ministers, tourism professionals, representatives from the private sector, NGOs, academia, and the media.

World Tourism Day was established by the UNWTO in 1980 with the purpose of fostering awareness among the international community of the significance of tourism and its social, cultural, political, and economic value. The first official World Tourism Day was celebrated the following year on September 27, 1981 when the UNWTO General Assembly adopted an official statute formalizing the celebration.
The date of September 27th was specifically chosen for World Tourism Day because it marks the anniversary of the adoption of the UNWTO Statutes in 1970. Each year has a different host country that is selected by the UNWTO on a rotational basis. The host country then chooses a relevant theme and organizes various events and initiatives related to the theme.

Over the years, World Tourism Day has been hosted all around the world in diverse destinations such as Ghana, Mexico, Malaysia, Croatia, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Thailand, and more. For 2022, the host country is Indonesia and this year's theme is "Rethinking Tourism." Some of the most memorable host countries and themes over the years have included:

What else is in this post?

  1. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - When and Where World Tourism Day Takes Place
  2. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - History of World Tourism Day Celebrations
  3. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Main Theme for This Year's Event
  4. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Notable Speakers and Presenters
  5. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Sample Activities and Events Held Worldwide
  6. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Importance of Sustainable Tourism
  7. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - How Tourism Supports Local Economies
  8. Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Looking Ahead to Future World Tourism Days

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - History of World Tourism Day Celebrations

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event

For over four decades, World Tourism Day has brought together key players and stakeholders in the travel and tourism industry to celebrate and bring awareness to this vital economic sector.

The first World Tourism Day was held in 1981 after the UNWTO General Assembly formally adopted it as an official celebration in 1980. However, the seeds were planted years earlier in the 1970s.

In 1974, the idea of an international day to raise awareness of tourism was first proposed by an African country at the UNWTO Mexico General Assembly. This sparked the UNWTO to begin working on drafting a statute to formalize World Tourism Day. Just two years later in 1976, the draft statute was approved at the Manila General Assembly. But it wasn't until September 27, 1980 that the Official Statute of World Tourism Day was finally adopted at the Torremolinos General Assembly in Spain. The date of September 27 was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of the UNWTO statutes in 1970.

The next year on September 27, 1981, the first official celebration of World Tourism Day was held in Madrid, Spain. Since then, World Tourism Day has been observed annually on September 27 in various host countries around the world. UNWTO Secretariat selects the host country on a rotational basis to ensure each region gets a chance to lead the celebrations.
Some of the early World Tourism Day themes focused on the driving role of tourism in international peace and understanding. For example, the theme in 1981 was "Tourism's Contribution to International Peace and Understanding." In 1983, it was “Overcoming Obstacles to Tourism Expansion and Improving the Image of Tourism.”

As the years went on, the central themes focused more on sustainable tourism, culture, youth, tourism ethics, and other key issues. Themes like “Tourism - Celebrating Diversity” in 1995 and “Sustainable Tourism: A Tool for Development” in 2005 underscored sustainable practices.

In the last decade, themes have centered around digital advances, environmental protection, inclusive growth, rural development, and recovery from the impacts of COVID-19. The 2021 theme “Tourism for Inclusive Growth” aimed to rebuild tourism in ways that nurture inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience.
Each host country puts their unique spin on celebrating World Tourism Day through various conferences, workshops, exhibitions, and media outreach. Activities may include parades, cultural performances, culinary offerings, and more to showcase that nation's beauty, history, and travel opportunities.

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Main Theme for This Year's Event

This year, the theme for World Tourism Day is “Rethinking Tourism” with the official slogan, “Rethink, Regenerate, Restart – Tourism for Planet and People.” The theme aims to stimulate discussion around reimagining the sector's future in a post-pandemic world. It encourages tourism stakeholders to rethink how we do tourism, regenerate destinations and communities in sustainable ways, and restart tourism in ways that balance the needs of people, planet, and prosperity.

Indonesia was chosen by the UNWTO as the host country for World Tourism Day 2022. As one of the world’s most biodiverse countries spanning over 17,000 islands, Indonesia relies heavily on tourism and is focusing this year’s celebrations on sustainability, inclusion, and innovation. According to the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno, “The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we travel, and this has created an opportunity to rethink tourism.”

The Global Tourism Crisis Committee was central to choosing this timely theme. In 2021, the Committee released a report emphasizing the need to rethink tourism based on the lessons learned during the pandemic. As the sector restarts worldwide, now is the moment to reshape tourism and transition to a greener, more inclusive, and more resilient model.

Rethinking tourism involves assessing its current impacts and orienting it toward sustainability as a driver of wider economic and social progress. Key focus areas include protecting natural and cultural assets, investing in human capital, embracing technology, ensuring fair income distribution, and collaborating across sectors.
According to UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, rethinking tourism provides “an opportunity to reorient the sector, fully integrating sustainable practices at all levels, and making sure that everybody reaps the benefits of tourism.”

To bring this theme to life, Indonesia is hosting an in-person celebration in Bali as well as a hybrid global observance online. Thought leaders across business, government, and civil society will convene to discuss strategies for reframing tourism more sustainably.

The Bali segment will showcase Indonesia's success developing community-based tourism initiatives across its vast archipelago. Many local villages have launched tourism cooperatives to provide income opportunities while maintaining cultural heritage. These grassroots efforts demonstrate how tourism can uplift communities when managed thoughtfully.
With climate change threatening many tourism-dependent regions, rethinking tourism takes on new urgency. The Philippines’ recent appointment of a Chief Resilience Officer to make tourism more disaster-resilient shows how destinations are starting to reorient infrastructure and services.

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Notable Speakers and Presenters

A diverse array of thought leaders across business, government, civil society, and academia will speak at World Tourism Day events to offer bold ideas on rethinking tourism. Their expertise spans sustainable travel, community development, cultural preservation, and more.

Headlining the Bali celebrations is Indonesia's Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno. As host, he will share Indonesia's innovative models, like how Toraja communities uphold ancient customs while profiting from ethical tourism. Women-led cooperatives in Lombok will present their endeavors fostering handicrafts and culinary tourism on the famed "Island of a Thousand Mosques."

Also in Bali, the UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili will emphasize tourism’s immense power to drive recovery and reshape economies and societies everywhere. He will announce the 2023 host country and theme chosen to further rethink tourism.
At the global online forum, thought-provoking changemakers will include social entrepreneur and CEO of Lokal Travel Herman Hooi. His mission-driven startup partners with marginalized communities to develop experiences protecting nature, artisans, and culture. Hooi will demonstrate how startups can disrupt systems while uplifting people.

Reda Negm, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt, will share how Egypt balanced reopening tourism with preserving heritage sites like Luxor's Valley of the Kings. He will reveal how Egypt engaged influencers and virtual reality to inspire responsible travel.
CEO of Travel Manitoba Colin Ferguson will detail how Canada's indigenous communities like Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation built culturally mindful tourism cooperatives. These community-owned businesses enable native tribes to benefit economically while managing tourism's impacts on sacred traditions.
Finally, thought-provoking discussions will come from Pravinkumar Manoharan, the youth leader of Protect Our Heritage Society Malaysia which stewards historic temples. And Professor David Leslie of the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute will speak on regenerating destinations through energy efficiency and behavior change.
This esteemed, diverse group of trailblazers will ignite the audience to rethink tourism as an avenue for cultural exchange, environmental action, and inclusive community development. Their outlooks are united by a shared vision of tourism as a powerful force for healing both people and planet.

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Sample Activities and Events Held Worldwide

World Tourism Day inspires diverse events worldwide that bring the host country's theme to life. These celebrations showcase the breadth of tourism's impacts while demonstrating ways to travel more thoughtfully. The creative activations provide models for how tourism everywhere can rethink its approach.
Past host countries have organized arts festivals, sand sculpture competitions, traditional dances, and city-wide cleanups. Trinidad and Tobago offered culinary workshops on sustainable fishing practices. In South Korea, youth groups performed skits conveying how tourism spreads peace. Many nations even issue special stamps, coins or lotteries to commemorate World Tourism Day.

Last year in the Ivory Coast, the theme "Tourism for Inclusive Growth" was translated into many family-friendly activities. Local artists displayed handcrafted masks and textiles at an ethno-tourism expo. There were open-air concerts spotlighting national musicians and street performers. Guided visits brought students to historic sites highlighting past kings and diverse heritages. For tourists, volunteering initiatives repaired damage at Tai National Park from the civil war. This allowed visitors to support sustainability first-hand.
Looking at South Africa's recent World Tourism Day events reveals how countries adaptively respond to crises. Under the 2020 theme of "Tourism and Rural Development", the nation faced the COVID-19 pandemic's severe impacts on travel. While many activities moved online, South Africa still shared inspiring local success stories. Virtual conferences discussed cases like the community-owned !Xaus Lodge that preserves indigenous traditions in the Kgalagadi Desert. This showcased how tourism can uplift rural areas if undertaken respectfully.

For last year's "Tourism for Inclusive Growth," South Africa responded to pandemic hardships by focusing programming on rebooting tourism. Activities emphasized marginalized groups via workshops on becoming an inclusive employer and marketing to women travelers. To revive economies, South Africa encouraged domestic travel through a Presidential Tourism Stimulus Fund improving amenities at rural destinations. These virtual and local events aligned to the theme while addressing immediate needs.
Looking ahead, Indonesia's creative events for "Rethinking Tourism" are worth following globally. Their hybrid forum structure allows participation despite lingering pandemic disruptions. Showcasing lesser-known community initiatives sparks important conversations on how tourism can sustain traditions, the environment, and local livelihoods. Exploring these models worldwide may inspire more systemic rethinking of how tourism operates, redistributes benefits, and protects destination resources.

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Importance of Sustainable Tourism

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event

Sustainable tourism has become an urgent priority worldwide. Destinations rely on tourism economically, so protecting resources matters. But overwhelming tourism strains infrastructure and degrades nature, culture, and local wellbeing. Rethinking tourism requires transitioning to sustainability as the norm rather than a niche.

Blind mass tourism damages destinations long-term. In the Philippines, Boracay Island grew overdeveloped, with untreated sewage flowing into once-pristine waters. A 2018 temporary closure enabled rehabilitating habitats and building proper waste systems. Nearby Palawan, avoiding Boracay’s mistakes, initiated a visitor cap and banned construction within 32 feet of all coasts. Policymakers realized unfettered tourism ruined Boracay’s economy since natural beauty was the main draw. Sustainable models maintain assets benefiting both locals and visitors.
Peru’s Machu Picchu epitomizes managing tourism’s double-edged sword. As the iconic Incan citadel gained popularity, 2,500+ daily visitors eroded stonework and clogged narrow access trails. A timed entry system now limits visitors to under 1,000 daily. Banning vehicles preserves clean air and serenity. While tourism remains vital to Cusco’s economy, choices prevent Machu Picchu’s destruction.
Ethical tourism companies inspire sustainability beyond policy. Lokal Travel, based in Bali, partners with marginalized local communities to develop immersive experiences while also training guides in protecting fragile environments. In Indonesia’s booming tourism economy, they ensure benefits flow to villages, not outsiders. Elevating community voices makes sustainability personal, not conceptual.
Small choices make tourism greener. Eliminating mini toiletries cuts plastic waste. Carbon offsetting, though imperfect, mitigates emissions. Using local guides shares revenue, preserves heritage knowledge, and incentivizes conservation. Choosing historic/ eco-hotels supports their environmental care. Focusing on culture, food, and nature rather than “selfies” values destinations as living places, not backdrops.
Rethinking systemic tourism issues takes cooperation across sectors. Transformative initiatives partner tourism firms with communities, non-profits, and governments. In Costa Rica, the Certification for Sustainable Tourism program trains businesses to reduce environmental impacts. This voluntary commitment boosts eco-friendly practices, benefiting all.

Global crises like COVID-19 or climate change recognize no borders. Emerging resilient requires unity. Barbuda, devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Irma, now mandates all hotels have evacuation and disaster preparedness plans. Seychelles pledged 30% of land and sea as protected areas, preserving these “blue economy” resources.

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - How Tourism Supports Local Economies

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event

Tourism is a lifeline for countless destinations, providing jobs to locals and customers to businesses. When managed respectfully, tourism income stays within communities rather than leaking out. Rethinking tourism requires ensuring tourist dollars empower everyday people, not monopolies.

Well-managed tourism circulates cash through local hands. In Kenya, Maasai women’s collectives have partnered with safari operators to sell their signature beadwork. Tourists meet the artisans, learn their techniques, and gain handmade souvenirs benefitting families directly. The Maasai culture strongly values craftswomanship; tourism sustains this heritage and livelihoods. Contrast this with imported souvenirs where profits flow overseas.

Homestays and locally-owned hotels keep tourism income within towns. Amistad National Park, Costa Rica pioneered partnering independent hotels with communities and environmentalists. Local accommodation partners commit to sustainability practices like recycling and energy efficiency. In return, partners promote these ethical hotels to tour operators. This collaboration enables growing tourism without compromising values or control.
The rise of experiential luxury reveals changing mentalities around opulent travel. Seeking meaningful connections, visitors now favor small cruises, eco-lodges, and cultural immersion with local guides. In Hanoi, Vespa Adventures employs all-Vietnamese guides sharing insider views while patrons enjoy street food. Direct booking funnels income into average workers’ pockets, not foreign intermediaries.

Still, tourism monopolies persist. All-inclusive resorts dominate Caribbean tourism. Though employing staff, most supplies are imported, profits externalized. Resorts pay minimal taxes, depriving governments of revenues for education, infrastructure, and social services. This deepens dependence on tourism yet prevents money from bettering communities.

While challenging entrenched systems is difficult, pioneering cooperatives demonstrate grassroots power. In Belize’s fishing village of Placencia, the Placencia Tour Guide Association collectively trained locals in sustainability, first aid, and interpretation skills. Cooperating provides benefits like insurance and group marketing previously inaccessible individually. Now accredited to lead tours, these guides earn far more.
Nepal’s Khumbu Climbing Center, owned by Sherpa mountain communities, trains villagers in mountaineering skills. Nepali guides now service 60-70% of Everest expeditions, capturing income that previously went to foreigners. The climbing school enables Sherpas to work internationally, educating children traditionally deprived of schooling.

Barbados’ village tourism networks reveal cooperation’s potential. Networks like Boscobel Toll Gang bring visitors into historical villages for meals, craft demonstrations, and heritage tours - all offered by villagers. Augmenting existing livelihoods, tourism provides supplemental income directly to families. Tourism dollars thus support community growth, on community terms.

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event - Looking Ahead to Future World Tourism Days

Celebrating World Tourism Day: Exploring the Annual UNWTO Event

Rethinking tourism is an ongoing process as our world and the traveling landscape evolve. While this World Tourism Day generates critical conversations, the topic will remain salient for decades to come. As climate change intensifies, ethical quandaries around overtourism persist, and disruptive innovations emerge, it is imperative to keep reevaluating tourism’s role and impacts. The annual World Tourism Day presents a vital opportunity to collaboratively envision how the sector can progress responsibly.

Looking ahead, future host countries will continue selecting urgent themes that foreground sustainability, inclusion, and tourism’s wider societal outcomes. 2023’s host Saudi Arabia chose “Unlocking the Potential of Tourism for All” aiming to broaden tourism’s benefits across genders, abilities, and marginalized groups. Travel inherently builds connections, so ensuring it unites rather than divides remains priority. The Philippines in 2024 will likely spotlight resilience and recovery given its vulnerability to climate change. While specific issues shift, the focus will stay on bettering lives and places through mindful tourism.
As tourism resets post-pandemic, hosts must continue providing solutions and interventions rather than just discussing problems. Egypt used virtual tours to keep tourism afloat amid restrictions but crucially trained tour guides in hygiene, safety protocols, and inclusive service. This exemplifies planning ahead pragmatically during uncertainty. Norway’s Sustainable Destinations Top 100 project, identifying benchmarks worldwide, demonstrates the power of spotlighting trailblazers. Elevating success stories inspires rapid replication.

Youth participation will grow as student clubs and young innovators increasingly diversify dialogue. Global Shapers, a World Economic Forum initiative for under-30s, has launched tourism-focused hubs suggesting reforms from fresh viewpoints. Their project Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency mobilizes industry around carbon reduction targets. Tourism Datathon networks data scientists with destinations to devise evidence-based policies. More opportunities must open for future generations to shape their travel experiences.

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