World tourism body sees upturn after 2009 woes

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The Independent Online
(AFP) -

The head of the World Tourism Organization forecast on Monday that business for the tourism sector would turn up modestly in 2010 after setbacks from the economic crisis and the H1N1 flu virus.

"Certain signs allow us to think that we could see the start of a comeback in 2010, but we're not expecting a major improvement until the end of the year," the body's secretary general Taleb Rifai said at its general assembly in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is a UN body which promotes tourism development. Its general assembly opened in Astana on Monday and will run to Thursday, gathering around 600 delegates from 120 countries.

Tourism fell by four percent in July from last year, as compared with 10 percent in May and seven percent in June. "We should finish the year with an average figure of a five percent (fall)," Rifai estimated.

The fall in visitors was greatest in Europe and North America, with a drop in numbers of around eight percent, while Africa experienced growth of around four percent.

Holidaymakers who chose to take cheaper "staycations" in their own countries failed to reverse the trend. Domestic tourism grew by only two to three percent this year, the World Tourism Organization said.

Other delegates expressed caution about hopes for a recovery.

"Unemployment will remain high in developed countries," said the president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, Jean-Claude Baumgarten, predicting that 2010 will be "very difficult."

"The growth in tourism will go hand-in-hand with emergence from recession," but "the natural disasters in Asia will hold back activity," said Geoffrey Lipman, Assistant Secretary-General of the UNWTO.

Rifai called for governments to temporarily reduce taxes on the tourism industry and encourage investments in eco-tourism.

Rifai, 60, was elected secretary general of the World Tourism Organization on Monday. He previously served as Jordan's tourism minister and will be the first representative of an Arab country to head the organization.