Statements, Speeches, Interviews

Speech of the Minister of Tourism & Culture Mrs. Ambika Soni at the inaugural session at the 84th Session of the UNWTO Executive Council Meeting

?It is my privilege to address this 84th Session of the UNWTO Executive Council Meeting in this historic city of Madrid. Let me, at the outset, on behalf of the Members of the Executive Council and in my own capacity as the Chairperson, express sincere gratitude to His Excellency Mr. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain and His Excellency Mr. Miguel Sebastian, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism of Spain for hosting this Meeting.


Ladies & Gentlemen, since we last met at Jeju Islands in June this year the situation worldwide on the tourism front has not improved; increasing oil costs and financial crisis continue to adversely impact economies as well as travel and tourism sectors. On the other hand, natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes and terrorist incidents in many parts of the world are all jeopardizing the tourism growth prospects. It is, therefore, in our collective interest to continue to work on setting up of Early Warning Systems for disaster management.


Similarly, terrorism and cross border crime are simply devastating all tourism prospects. Terrorism has neither religion nor boundaries. In fact, no country can be said to be insulated against terrorism. The challenge posed by terrorism can only be surmounted through international cooperation and collective action by the global community rather than by issuing travel advisories against individual countries. But despite all adversity, there is an inherent hope that human enthusiasm and curiosity to venture out into unexplored terrains and experience different cultures and their scintillating dance, music, cuisine and shopping, will foster tourism activity.


Ladies & Gentlemen, today more than ever before people all over the world are concerned about Climate Change and its impact on our planet, on our lives, on our health and on our children?s future. The UNWTO has indeed taken a lead in addressing these concerns through seminars, through conferences as well as by highlighting the imperative need for adapting best practices for destinations. We are all aware that this adaptation process is not easy, especially for those developing countries who are realizing their economic potential through tourism. It is, therefore, important to assist the destinations of developing nations with technology and financial resources. I am confident that UNWTO will work out an effective methodology that is service oriented so as to enable nations to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals, one of which is eradication of poverty through tourism.


It is in keeping with this growing awareness of the need for pursuing tourism growth consistent with environmentally sustainable principles and practices, that we, in India, this year, are holding 4 regional thematic conferences with participation of international and national stakeholders on Responsible Tourism. The conferences will cover the Industry Perspective, Local Governance and Convergence, Community Participation and Empowerment and Capacity Building. These events will culminate into a mega National Conference on Responsible Tourism on December 9, 2008 which will be inaugurated by our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The Indian Prime Minister has set up a National Action Plan on Climate Change. The Plan encompasses Eight National Missions - covering Solar Energy, Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Habitat, Conserving Water, sustainable Himalayan Eco-system, Sustainable Agriculture, Knowledge Platform and creating a Green India. These Missions will be pursued as key components of our long term strategy for sustainable development.


Ladies & Gentlemen, the rapid changes in technology especially the use of Internet is challenging the traditional way of conducting tourism: E-ticketing, online booking of accommodation and services are all eliminating the middle-man and margins. The spiraling costs are also conflicting with the traditional way of doing business as costs have become a major factor in the travel trade industry. We need to devise new technologies and explore new solutions to overcome these challenges and sustain the tourism industry.


Similarly, nations that facilitate seamless travel will attract greater tourist traffic as is evident in some countries that have introduced ?Visa on Arrival Scheme?. I urge the UNWTO to encourage member states to introduce flexible long duration visa systems and put in place Advanced Passenger Information systems.


Ladies & Gentlemen, on behalf of my delegation I would like to express deep gratitude to the member countries of UNWTO and the Secretariat for giving India this unique opportunity of chairing the Executive Council of the UNWTO. We are happy to have contributed our bit to the UNWTO process and in advancing its agenda of pursuing sustainable tourism which is our common cause. I would also like to place on record our deep appreciation to the Secretary General, Mr. Francesco Frangialli and his team for their support to India during its tenure.


I wish all the delegates fruitful and fulfilling interactions during this 84th Session in Madrid?.