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Thank You, Mr Rifai
After 18 years as a faithful ITB Berlin participant, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai spoke for the last time in this position at this week’s official launch ceremony, stating he shall miss this, and all the people here, very much.
This is Taleb Rifai’s final year as UNWTO Secretary-General, a position he has held for almost seven years. In that time, the Secretary General has been a champion for tourism as a vector for peace and understanding, a force for good, and particularly this year, a force for sustainable development. In his final speech before the most important gathering this year of travel industry, trade, political leaders and DMOs, Mr Rifai had never been so adamant about underlining the importance of tourism to its core values: social progress, equality and prosperity, peace and human rights. He told the attendees we must together address three key priorities:
PROMOTING SAFE AND SEAMLESS TRAVEL
This does not mean stigmatising, oppressing or excluding communities and minorities, by building walls or banning people from travelling, which is bending to what terrorists want – to end a free world. It does mean cooperating to address the security challenges we face without compromising people’s ability to travel. And it means giving the tourism sector and its stakeholders a seat at the table when security related to tourism infrastructure is discussed.
ENHANCING THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION IN TOURISM
Technology is rapidly changing consumers’ behaviour, business models and destination management. We need to better understand its impact on our sector and maximize the new opportunities we have to improve competitiveness, make travel safer and easier, and manage our natural resources more effectively.
EMBRACE THE SUSTAINABILITY AGENDA
Tourism in Botswana is carried out on an ecologically sustainable basis: local communities must benefit and wildlife conservation is crucial. We all need to ensure, like Botswana is, that as our sector grows it contributes to the wellbeing of the world and not to its peril. Tourism must fulfil its responsibility to contribute to all 17 universal Sustainable Development Goals. The Secretary General said he had the “utmost faith in our sector as a catalyst for hope and positive change,” adding, “This faith is matched only by my commitment to turn this conviction into reality.” In his last year at UNWTO, Mr Rifai said he was very proud and grateful to be celebrating the transformative potential of Sustainable Tourism for Development, concluding, “Let us make each of the 1.2 billion travellers an ambassador for peace, tolerance and respect.” This page is less of an editorial and more of a tribute to the wisdom and vision of a man who has given the industry so much. His standing ovation at the ITB Berlin official opening ceremony pays testimony to this. Thank you, Mr Rifai.