The Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, has emphasised that collaboration is needed more than ever before to build a resilient tourism sector that works for people, prosperity, and the planet. Speaking at the United Nations World Tourism Organization Regional Commission for Africa meeting in Mauritius on 26 July 2023, she highlighted the intricate vulnerability of the tourism industry and the collective action needed to address it. The meeting comes at a time when the global tourism industry is on the path to recovery after suffering a crushing blow from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 alone, the sector faced a severe setback with 1.1 billion fewer international tourist arrivals and the loss of over 100 million jobs worldwide. In her address to more than 100 senior officials, including the Prime Minister of Mauritius, the Hon Pravind Jugnauth, and African ministers responsible for tourism, the Secretary-General said: “Despite a strong recovery in 2022, to almost two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels, the world today is tightly bound by a tangled knot of crises spanning global economic, environmental and security systems, which pose series threats to the tourism sector.” She highlighted the disproportionate impact on small island developing states (SIDS), which are heavily reliant on tourism.
In 2020, SIDS experienced a 9 per cent decline in their gross domestic product, significantly higher than the global average of 3.4 per cent. Given that two-thirds of the world’s small island developing states are part of the Commonwealth, the Secretary-General emphasised that sustainable tourism is a priority for the Commonwealth. She stressed the urgency of addressing these challenges collectively, adding: “We need to leave this meeting with a plan to deliver an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient tourism sector. This is imperative for the economy of each country which depends on it in Africa and beyond.” Describing the meeting as a pivotal opportunity, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland invited countries to work together on an array of innovative legal and financial solutions for the tourism sector. She continued: “We already have the knowledge, the ideas, the innovation and the technology to develop and deliver these solutions… What we need is leadership and a shared commitment not to go alone, but to go together.”
The Secretary-General expressed confidence in Commonwealth Africa’s ability to show that leadership and set the continent on a path of sustainable and resilient tourism industry. To support this effort, she outlined how the Commonwealth’s work could assist countries in addressing tourism challenges through knowledge exchange, data-sharing and capacity-building. In particular, Secretary-General Scotland spoke about the Commonwealth’s ‘Their Future, Our Action’ project, which has been enhancing the economic resilience of small states. She highlighted two tools developed through this project which can support the efforts of African countries. The first tool, ‘Common Pool Asset Structuring Strategy’, consolidates individual finance applications into country-wide opportunities, while the second tool, the Political-Economic Resilience Index, provides credible data on the economic and vulnerability levels of small states, making inward investments more attractive. This work, she added, was backed by the Commonwealth’s ongoing advocacy on the reform of global financing rules to make development and climate finance more accessible to small states, enabling them to invest more in sustainable development, climate action and tourism resilience.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Jugnauth said: “The global tourism industry is set on its way to fully recover, to reach pre-pandemic levels. We need to think together about building on the success and also addressing the challenges right ahead of us. We have to work hand in hand to ensure we are prepared for future crises.” The Regional Meeting, focused on ‘Rethinking Tourism in Africa’, provided ministers and senior officials from the continent a platform to share knowledge, ideas, and good practices for building a resilient tourism sector.