World Tourism Day (WTD) has been marked every year on 27 September since 1980 to raise awareness of the importance of tourism socially, culturally, politically and economically worldwide. Tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors and provides job opportunities and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people. In some countries, it can represent up to 20 per cent of GDP.
The day was chosen to commemorate the adoption of the UN World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) Statues in 1970. It also coincides with the deciphering of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone in the early 19th century and the unlocking of ancient Egyptian history.
On this day in 1822, Jean-François Champollion, a French scientist, published a draft translation of the mysterious hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone, discovered some years earlier by French forces in Egypt, and demonstrated to the world how to read the language left behind by the ancient Egyptian scribes.
This year, the world is celebrating the WTD under the slogan of “Tourism and Economic Development”.
According to a statement from the UNWTO, the theme highlights the unique role that tourism plays to drive economic development, provide job opportunities outside larger cities, and help to preserve the cultural and natural heritage all over the globe.
“Tourism helps rural communities hold onto their unique natural and cultural heritage and traditions and supports conservation projects, including those safeguarding endangered species, threatened traditions, or foods,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO secretary-general. He said that tourism could empower rural communities, providing jobs and opportunities, notably for women and youth.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that over the last 40 years since the first WTD was observed much had changed. Demand for travel had soared and the world had opened up, allowing more people than ever to explore the globe and its different cultures.
Today, tourism is firmly established on the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as an engine for advancing prosperity, protecting the planet, and laying the foundations for peace and understanding among peoples.
“Tourism has suffered enormously during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the safe restarting of tourism is essential,” Guterres said, adding that “some 120 million jobs are at risk. The impacts could lead to the loss of between 1.5 and 2.8 per cent of global GDP. This will particularly affect the most vulnerable countries, including Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries, and many African nations, where tourism can represent between 30 and 80 per cent of exports.”
In this challenging year, he called on the world to focus on tourism’s importance for people living in rural areas, “so we can deliver on the promise of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to leave nobody behind,” Guterres added.
For the first time in the 40-year history of the WTD, the official celebrations will also not be hosted by a single member state of the UN agency. Instead, nations from the Mercosur bloc, namely Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Chile joining with observer status, will serve as joint hosts.
“This co-hosting agreement exemplifies the spirit of international solidarity that runs through tourism and which the UNWTO has recognised as essential for recovery. Cross-border cooperation reflects the current need for international solidarity and cooperation. This is especially true for tourism, working together towards a common goal,” the UNWTO said in a statement.
With the new coronavirus putting the world into lockdown mode, recreational as well as work-related travel has come to a sudden halt, and most countries celebrated the WTD virtually.
However, in Egypt the celebration was different. Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khaled El-Enany along with the ministers of civil aviation, the environment, and state information and 30 ambassadors of foreign countries in Cairo embarked on a three-day trip to the Red Sea coastal city of Sharm El-Sheikh in the South Sinai Peninsula, where they enjoyed various activities.
They inspected precautionary measures being implemented at the Sharm El-Sheikh airport and hotels as well as the area where PCR tests for Covid-19 are taken.
They also visited the Sharm El-Sheikh Museum, scheduled to open in October. El-Enany allowed the ambassadors to visit only one of the halls of the new museum in order to keep the rest of the galleries as a surprise upon its official inauguration.
The ambassadors expressed their appreciation of the museum’s design, open-air displays, and distinguished collection. “It is a real beauty. We were not expecting to see such an impressive museum in Sharm El-Sheikh,” they said, expecting that it would be one of the most amazing museums in Egypt.
The museum has so far received more than 6,062 artefacts from several stores and archaeological sites and other museums across the country, the latest of which was a rare mosaic from Alexandria, dating back to the fourth century BCE.
During the trip, the ambassadors were able to take in the natural environment and sunny atmosphere of the city, also experiencing the rich marine life characteristic of the Red Sea on a snorkelling excursion. They also toured a number of nature reserves and visited the Sharm El-Sheikh International Hospital.
A 30-minute fun cycling competition was held in the streets of Sharm El-Sheikh. The Cameroonian ambassador to Cairo won the race, and El-Enany promised he would be the first to visit the newly discovered coffins in Saqqara upon an announcement on Saturday. Meanwhile, the German ambassador also suggested holding an international cycling marathon in Sharm El-Sheikh.
“Egypt’s celebration of the WTD in the presence of 30 foreign ambassadors and their families is a strong message to the whole world that Egypt enjoys security and safety even at a time of the new coronavirus,” El-Enany said, noting that tourism in Egypt was recovering from an earlier decline.
Egypt resumed international flights on 1 July after they had been suspended since March as part of a plan to maintain anti-coronavirus precautionary measures while resuming economic activities. Starting in September, cultural tourism also resumed. Almost 300,000 tourists from 15 countries have visited South Sinai and the Red Sea since the return of tourism to Egypt.
El-Enany said he was proud of the country’s efficient implementation of the anti-Covid-19 precautionary measures at airports, hotels, and tourism facilities, noting that he had recently visited other countries to reassure them about the safety of tourism in Egypt.
During the gathering the “Eco Egypt” campaign was also launched to promote natural reserves and ecotourism in the country as part of WTD activities.
The campaign advocates support for both the tourism sector and local livelihoods by providing a platform for the unique practices, traditions, and crafts of local communities. From camping to diving, stargazing to birdwatching, Egypt’s ecological sites promise unparalleled experiences for the curious, young and old alike.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.