The tourism sector in the southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region has huge potential to become a major player in the economy and contribute to job creation. However, challenges remain.
In order to address issues facing the development of tourism in the SEMED region the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Jordan held a two-day conference in Petra, titled ‘Investing in Tourism for an Inclusive Future: Challenges and Opportunities’.
Held under the patronage of Hani Mulki, the Prime Minister of Jordan, the conference brought together participants from the public and private sectors to discuss the role of tourism in creating job opportunities, promoting energy efficiency and strengthening micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
Participants discussed the importance of access to training and appropriate skills to create employment opportunities for young people and women, and explored how to reduce skills mismatches. Compliance with international standards for hospitality, services, food quality and safety, as well as environmental and labour regulations, are vital for the competitiveness of the sector and its development, the conference noted.
Enhancing resource and energy efficiency by implementing and promoting sound policies and improving building standards was another focus of discussion, along with the role of financial institutions and investors as drivers of sustainable tourism.
In addition, participants considered how to strengthen the role and competitiveness of MSMEs in the tourism value chain. Sectors such as transport, handicrafts, hospitality, gastronomy, furniture and electronic appliances are interlinked with the tourism sector and can benefit significantly from its development. Yet, maximising the potential of tourism requires strong, coordinated action in areas such as market access, the movement of travellers, services, goods, quality and standards, and foreign direct investment.
“Despite the challenges that the SEMED region currently faces, it has tremendous potential for tourism as demonstrated by its record growth over the years. We must recall that tourism accounts for 15 per cent of the total exports of the region and that over the last 10 years international tourist arrivals increased from 48 million to 71 million in the MENA region alone. Considering tourism’s capacity to promote economic growth and advance inclusive development, we believe that this conference and its focus on investment will contribute to reviving the sector in the region,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.
Mattia Romani, EBRD Managing Director for Economics, Policy and Governance, said: “Job creation and skills development, energy efficiency and MSMEs are priorities for the EBRD and by supporting the tourism sector we are targeting the various components to strengthen economic growth in the region. We also believe that an inclusive and thriving tourism sector that creates good jobs, in particular for young people, helps foster peace; when young people have good jobs, they also have incentives and ambitions to continue to grow, establish businesses, invest and, therefore, maintain such peace and stability. Together with UNWTO we are working to strengthen related policies and develop a sustainable sector.”
HE Lina Mazhar Annab, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities in Jordan, said: “Tourism is one of the most important socio-economic sectors in Jordan contributing close to 11 per cent to the gross domestic product. The government of Jordan realises the importance of this sector in generating revenue as well as in creating employment opportunities and has launched a number of economic reforms and incentives to facilitate investment in the country’s tourism. We need to continue providing all the necessary incentives to attract local and foreign direct investments in tourism because this sector generates jobs, empowers small and medium enterprises, and contributes heavily to the preservation and promotion of the natural and cultural heritage”.
Among the challenges for the sector, participants stressed the quality of the business environment (including public-private dialogue, political stability, security, visa facilitation, sanitation and health conditions, energy costs and other production factors); access to finance; availability of a workforce with appropriate skills; compliance with international standards (in hospitality, services, food quality and safety, environmental and labour regulations); and access to tourist destinations (including the quality and availability of infrastructure, such as airports and ports).
A common roadmap
The Conference drafted the Petra Declaration on Investing in Tourism for an Inclusive Future. The Declaration calls on the private sector, investors, financial institutions, governments, academics and civil society to ensure that tourism development is based on responsible and sustainable planning, evidence-based decision making and the involvement of all stakeholders, including host communities and disadvantaged groups of society. The provision of fair access to quality training as well as employment opportunities for youth and women are also stressed in the Declaration.
Lastly, the Declaration pledges to build an inclusive and sustainable tourism sector based on human rights, social and economic justice and equality, including alignment with the principles of the International Labour Organization’s Decent Work Agenda.