The travel business — bumbling, good riddance, welcome?

A bumbling bureaucrat

This report was motivated by a short speech this month by Antonio Guterres head of the United Nations (UN). His ‘speechlet’ was about the travel business, and thus was diffused by the WTO*.

Our interpretation is that Guterres tells us that travelling can help the world recover from the damage caused by the covid coronavirus. Firstly, however, some comments:

-As noted, this is our interpretation. We have included below some excerpts from what Guterres said. But obviously, those interested should listen to the full speechlet; it is only about five minutes.

-Guterres did not say, but covid has caused medical and economic damage. If he is saying that travel can help economic recovery, then he is correct. But he did not clarify.

Now for the most egregious countering fact — travel was the sole cause of the worldwide spread of covid. If the virus started in Wuhan, China, as generally believed, then it would likely have not gone further if the first carrier/s stayed in Wuhan. But they travelled, as did others, and so spread the virus worldwide.

To have the chutzpah not only to ignore this fact, but to add that travel can help the recovery, seems shockingly irresponsible — if not plain stupid.

Worse, we thought that Guterres simply treats people as fools, and ready to believe anything that comes from a generally-respected organisation. But no, because the WTO repeated Guterres’ comments. Whereas that might be understandable — because one of the WTO’s jobs is to promote travel — does credibility or respect or truth no longer have any value?

We end our speechlet with a comment that damages a little more the respect we once had for Guterres, and makes us think that perhaps he is no more than a bumbling bureaucrat.

Guterres referred to the WTO in his speechlet. But he called it the ‘United Nations World Tourism Organization’. It is not. It is the World Tourism Organization, which it abbreviates to UNWTO, although it is a UN body. We would have thought Guterres should know; Wikipedia reports that he has headed the UN since 2017.

We add that Guterres also repeated the fault of many (including the WTO) of presuming that ‘tourism’ (meaning the travel business) is just inbound leisure travel. Not only is there outbound and domestic travel (ok, and space travel), but also non-leisure segments, including business-, MICE-, VFR-, sports-, and religious-travel, and more.

Good riddance. And welcome?

We take the opportunity to add more, and more lightly. The subjects are ‘overtourism’, the value of travel, and the environment.

Overtourism, travel value, the environment

We were never a ‘supporter’ of mostly negative comments about ‘overtourism’, believing it to be a vogue word for ‘busy’ or ‘peak season’ — except for a few cases such as Angkor Wat and Venice. Now, post-covid, we suspect many — in and outside of the travel business — would welcome ‘over-tourism’.

Concomitant with welcoming ‘over-tourism’ is the public’s realisation of the value of the travel business (defined as ‘tourism’ in most writings). In fact, an important part of the work of WTTC* was to explain to world governments how valuable was the travel business (which, in respect of its name, the WTTC must define as the meaningless ‘travel & tourism’).

What the WTTC has been struggling to do in its 30 years of existence, has been achieved in 4/5 months of the covid coronavirus. Surely everyone now knows the value of the travel business?

So will the WTTC now disband? If not — and we suspect it will not — what will its new role be?

We will try to conclude on a constructive note. Much of what the WTTC could do (for instance, its current counts on covid-caused job and financial losses) could also be done by the WTO. And in some cases both are indeed already doing different versions of the same thing.

And so we propose a new role for WTTC — environmentally-friendly travel (EFT). (We avoid the word ‘sustainable’ because it has been devalued to mean almost nothing.)

Our publication ZERO already has a list of what various segments of the travel business should do to become Gold standard. At present, no airline, hotel-group, destination, etc, qualifies for Gold. Likewise, none qualifies for the Silver standard, and only a (very) small number qualify for the Bronze standard. Indeed, most travel companies do not even qualify for ‘Entry Level’.

We would like the WTTC to take up/over this challenge — although we worry that it would want its members to get at least ‘Entry Level’, thus threatening credibility from the beginning.

Could the WTTC start to push for travel organisations to get financial help only if they worked on EFT measures?

Will we be able to say in five years’ time that the covid brought about a new beginning for the travel business?


-WTO — World Tourism Organization, which it abbreviates to UNWTO — is a lobby group for the travel business.

-WTTC — World Travel & Tourism Council — is a lobby group for the travel business.

Edited excerpts

From UN secretary general Antonio Guterres:

-Tourism can be a platform for overcoming the pandemic.

-By bringing people together, tourism can promote solidarity and trust.

-The United Nations World Tourism Organization is strongly committed to this work.

-The livelihoods of many depend on [‘tourism’], especially women and particularly in the world’s most vulnerable countries.

-The protection of biodiversity relies heavily on the tourist sector, from conservation to the revenue generated by those efforts.