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Tourism ministers discuss rural development at World Travel Market

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World Travel Market London 2019, ExCeL London – Fun and games on the Gambia stand.

Tourism leaders from across the public and private sectors came together at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London for a high-level discussion on tourism’s role in rural development, the challenges and the opportunities.

The Ministers’ Summit on Technology for Rural Development, hosted by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), in partnership with WTM, focused on tourism innovation and technology and their place in empowering rural communities.

The Ministers’ Summit was held as the UNWTO works with its Member States and alongside its fellow United Nations agencies to face up to the challenges posed by rising levels of urbanisation.

According to the UN, 68 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. In many places, this has meant rural communities are “left behind”, and tourism has been identified as a key means of bridging the rural-urban divide by creating jobs and boosting economic sustainability.

Given the growing interest in rural development, the event, the 13th Ministers’ Summit attracted a large audience of delegates. Alongside 75 Ministers and Vice-Ministers of Tourism, members of the global media joined senior travel industry professionals for the high-level discussions, which were moderated by Nina Dos Santos, CNN’s Europe Editor.

Opening the Summit, Secretary-General of UNWTO Zurab Pololikashvili, said: “Globally, poverty is overwhelmingly rural. This means, if we are serious tourism being a driver growth and development, we must look outside of our cities: We need to work together to help even the smallest community enjoy the many and varied benefits that tourism can bring.”

Participants from both the private and public sector explored the potential benefits of digital technology, agreeing that innovation and knowledge dissemination will be vital for bridging the rural-urban divide. Alongside private sector leaders, the public sector was represented by highest-level tourism representatives from Albania, Bolivia, Colombia, Greece, Guatemala, Panama, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone and Yemen, in addition to Gloria Guevara, President and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

Both public and private sector participants were united in their commitment to ensuring tourism’s contribution to rural development is geared to leaving no one behind.

At its recent General Assembly, UNWTO announced Rural Development and Tourism as the theme for World Tourism Day 2020, the global observance day celebrated every 27 September and underscoring tourism’s socio-economic relevance.

Against this backdrop, the outcomes of this year’s Ministers’ Summit at World Travel Market will serve as the foundations upon which to build the overarching thematic angle for many of UNWTO’s actions and initiatives around the world.

Meanwhile, this year’s World Travel Market observed that advances in digital and artificial intelligence for air travel are coming in thick and fast, delegates heard.

Liam McKay, Director of Corporate Affairs at London City Airport told delegates it won’t be long before biometrics replace paper documents and check-in will be carried out somewhere else.

During a session entitled gathering Storms, Airline and Airports, McKay said, “In the future, there will be less space than you expect to check-in. It won’t be done in the future at an airport. It will be done at your office or at home.

“Currently, we have travelers flying from London City who works at Canary Wharf can drop off bags at their offices.

“Soon you’ll be able to turn up without your passport. It will be more or less a paperless experience based on biometrics. That future is much closer than you think.”

Hank Jan Gerzee, Chief Digital & Innovation Officer at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, told the moderator John Strickland the airport already has the facility for people to drop off luggage at the car park before they get into the terminal.

In another development, the world’s first automatic bridge to allow passengers to walk off the aircraft and into the terminal has been installed at Schiphol, speeding up the disembarkation process for flyers and helping aircraft to be more punctual.

Virtual assistants, multi-language websites and wearable technology will shape the future of digital travel, a WTM London session also heard today.

The themes emerged in a discussion entitled ‘Genesys Session: The Future of Digital Travel led by Paul Richer, founder of technology consultancy Genesys.

Daniel Wishnia, Chief Digital Transformation Officer at German property company, Aroundtown, said the $2.1 billion purchase of Fitbit by Google two weeks ago illustrated how important wearable health and tracking devices would be in future.

“The message is prediction – to try and understand a person’s behaviour, to see what that person will choose and buy.”

Virtual assistance and voice technology were part of this future, he said. “It’s not only about the weather forecast, but it’s also about where can I go? My assistant knows I like sushi, and recommends restaurants that are nearby. This kind of data will lead us to understand how we approach our future customers.”

Devices like Alexa and Google Assistant will eventually shape travel decisions through learning more about our tastes, lifestyle and health, he said.

“The assistant will be interactive; it will know your calendar and tell you it’s time to take a break.”

Joel Brandon-Bravo, vice president of travel solutions at translation service TransPerfect, however, warned of the need for multi-lingual approaches. He said that of the $30 trillion growth in middle-class consumption predicted between 2015 and 2030, only $1 trillion would not come from Asia. Similarly, there were no English speaking countries among the top 10 emerging markets.

Proxy technology, where an enquiry is redirected to a hosted site in the client’s own language, would permit new market penetration, he said. He also urged companies not to think that no new social media channels would emerge, citing the enormous recent growth of short form mobile video site TikTok.


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