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UNWTO, WHO strengthens cooperation over COVID-19 response

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As the world battles against COVID-19, the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Zurab Pololikashvili led a high- delegation to the World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters in Geneva to further advance the two agencies’ coordinated response to the worldwide outbreak. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the delegation to Geneva and thanked UNWTO for its close collaboration since the very start of the ongoing public health emergency.

On the back of the productive meetings, the heads of both United Nations agencies stressed the need to include the following guiding principles: The importance of international cooperation and responsible leadership at this critical time; the solidarity of the tourism sector and of individual tourists, as well as the responsibility both have for helping minimize the spread and impact of COVID-19; the key role tourism can play in both containing the COVID-19 outbreak and in leading future response efforts.

UNWTO Secretary-General Pololikashvili said, “The COVID-19 outbreak is first and foremost a public health issue. UNWTO is following the lead of WHO, with whom we have enjoyed an excellent working relationship from day one. This meeting reaffirmed the importance of strong cooperation and international solidarity and I welcome the Director-General’s recognition of the role tourism can play both now and in the future.”

Mr. Pololikashvili and Dr Tedros confirmed the two UN agencies’ commitment to ensuring any response to COVID-19 is proportionate, measured and based on the latest public health recommendations.

Pololikashvili added that the tourism value chain touches upon every part of society.

“This makes tourism uniquely placed to promote solidarity, collaboration and concrete action across borders in these challenging times and also ideally positioned to once again drive future recovery.”

At the same time, the heads of UNWTO and WHO called for responsible communications and reporting of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, stressing the importance of ensuring all communications and actions are evidence-based so as to avoid stigmatising sections of society and spreading panic.

Moving forward, both agencies will liaise with UNWTO Members, as well as with the Chairs of all the UNWTO Regional Commissions and the Chair of the Executive Council to further advance tourism’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. UNWTO will also communicate with other UN bodies, including ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and the IMO (International Maritime Organization), and with IATA (International Air Transport Association) and with key sector stakeholders to ensure tourism’s response is coordinated and consistent.

Meanwhile, in an update on the sector’s response to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, the world tourism body offers a first assessment pointing to a decrease in international arrivals and receipts in 2020. Public health measures need to be implemented in ways that minimise any unnecessary disruption to travel and trade. Since the start of the outbreak, UNWTO has been working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure this is the case.

UNWTO has revised its 2020 prospects for international tourist arrivals to a negative growth of 1 per cent to 3 per cent, translating into an estimated loss of US$ 30 to 50 billion in international tourism receipts. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, UNWTO predicted a positive growth of 3 per cent to 4 per cent for this year.

This first assessment expects that Asia and the Pacific will be the worst affected region, with an anticipated fall in arrivals of 9 per cent to 12 per cent. Estimates for other world regions are currently premature in view of the rapidly evolving situation.

UNWTO, however, calls for financial and political support for recovery measures aimed at tourism, and to include support for the sector in the wider recovery plans and actions of affected economies.

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak will be felt across the whole tourism value chain. UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili furthermore stresses that “small and medium-sized enterprises makeup around 80% of the tourism sector and are particularly exposed with millions of livelihoods across the world, including within vulnerable communities, relying on tourism.”

Political and financial commitments are key to ensure that tourism can lead to wider economic and social recovery, as proven in past disruptions on the back of the highly resilient nature of the sector and its ability to bounce back strongly.

In recent decades, tourism has come of age and is now firmly established as an important contributor to sustainable development, economic growth, employment, and international understanding. As the UN agency responsible for tourism and sustainable development, UNWTO stands ready to provide guidance and support for recovery measures of its members, the private and public tourism sector, including organizers of tourism events and fairs.

In Nigeria, the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) has expressed confidence that Nigeria’s health officials’ effort at containing the virus would be successful, and that the Covid-19 scare should not stop leisure and business tourists from visiting Nigeria. The Tourism Federation gave this assurance on the culmination of their Governing Council Meeting held in Abuja on March 5, 2020.

The President of the Tourism Federation, Alhaji Saleh Rabo, who spoke to reporters after the council meeting, called on all Nigerians and foreign travelers to fully comply with the Corona virus preventive processes setup at Nigeria’s entry ports and other public places. He said FTAN highly commends the relentless efforts of Nigeria health officials including the Port Health Services, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Federal and States Ministries of health.

Alhaji Rabo revealed that FTAN, which is the only national umbrella body of the organized tourism private sector, has since intensified sensitisation of her 23-federating member associations on the likely effects of Covid-19 in Nigeria’s travel and tourism businesses.

He noted that tourism is a personal contact service endeavour, as such tourism and hospitality operators need to be extra vigilant and to fully deploy all the government advised Corona virus preventive measures.

FTAN assured that the federation in Nigeria also supports the position of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) against the issuance of Travel Restrictions. He said issuing travel restrictions at this stage of Covid-19 would be counterproductive and could adversely affect the fortunes of tourism operators in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Rabo stated that it is cheering news to learn from the Minister of Health that the Italian, who is the index coronavirus infected person in Nigeria, is responding to treatment and recovering fast.

“We hope that the second reported confirmation of another infected person will recover very soon,” he said.

The President of FTAN assured reporters that Nigeria is safe for tourism, both domestic and inbound, and advised against Corona Virus scaremongering.


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