Not only is it the biggest tourism gathering in the country this year, it was also the biggest event hosted by the Philippines after the pandemic. The hybrid World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit, took place last month at the Grand Ballroom of the Manila Marriott Hotel.
The biannual event is the most influential in the tourism industry and is always participated in by industry leaders, key government representatives, and the private sector from different countries.
The numbers were definitely very impressive – 1200 in-person delegates, half of whom were foreign, representing more than 50 countries, 10,000-plus virtual participants, 200 international and local media, and 30 government delegations.
Since the Asia-Pacific region is the fastest-growing in terms of travel and tourism GDP and the largest region for the sector’s employment prior to the pandemic, it was but fitting to hold the summit here in the country, to advance and discuss key strategic initiatives addressing the social, environmental and economic challenges brought about by the two years of our Industry’s hibernation.
In his opening remarks, WTTC Chairperson Arnold Donald mentioned the current crisis in Ukraine and reiterated the council’s stand for peace, as he thanked all the summit’s participants for helping rediscover travel. It is very interesting to learn that, here in the Asia-Pacific region alone, tourism accounted for 185 million jobs before the pandemic wreaked havoc on our industry, something that we, stakeholders, should now continuously work for, to bring those jobs back.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat stressed the need for our industry to be inclusive, sustainable, and resilient, especially because, prior to the pandemic, it posted a 12 percent share of our country’s GDP and gave 5.7 million jobs to our countrymen. She urged everyone to be “united for the planet,” further emphasizing her focus on sustainable tourism.
Sec. Romulo-Puyat also urged our local stakeholders to shift to regenerative tourism, to make destinations continuously better than how they were before. She also reminded everyone that our country’s wealth in biodiversity demands our disaster preparedness against the onslaught of climate change. She then gave the delegates a hint of what to expect during the three-day summit when she mentioned our country’s “rich and vibrant culture of songs, festivals, and cuisine.”
Another tourism dignitary who took to the stage was Julia Simpson, President and Chief Executive Officer of WTTC, who congratulated the travel and tourism sectors’ resilience which made them survive the several years of tourism inactivity. She then encouraged all governments of the world to use science-based approaches to re-open borders towards further accelerating Tourism recovery, paving the way for “revenge travel” as the world’s population rediscovers cultures, places, flavors, and connections.
What gave us a lot of hope was Simpson’s announcement that, by the end of 2022, the global industry would have already earned US$8.35 trillion in revenues, and that over the next ten years to 2032, the Industry will have an annual growth rate of 5.8 percent and will create 126 million new jobs during that period.
Other dignitaries that lent their valuable time to this global event were: President Rodrigo Duterte who thanked all delegates for their participation and encouraged us to “work together to achieve the social growth and economic development that the tourism industry brings.” There was also Colombia President Ivan Duque Marquez who explained that his country “has sustainability in its agenda, with the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2030.”
Ban Ki-Moon, former United Nations Secretary General, highlighted that “travel broadens horizons and enables sharing of ideas and inspiration which are essential parts of the human experience.”
What I found very interesting was the talk given by a young Indonesian lady, Melati Wijsen, on the last day of the event. She was only 12 years old in 2013 when she decided to co-found Bye Bye Plastic Bags because her favorite beaches in Bali were littered with hundreds of plastic bottles and bags. This NGO started this crusade against the wanton disposal of plastic, manned by a group of youngsters her age, calling themselves Youthtopia, and all empowered to be changemakers.
The group created a fundamental and lasting change in the environment, winning themselves many awards along the way. But, as Wijsen said, she was not really interested in the awards and plaques of recognition. She just wanted to persist until the expected change happened.
The delegates enjoyed not only the very interesting daily sessions but also the Welcome Dinner at The Cove in Okada, where Filipino dances and songs were showcased, and a lively band playing dance music drew the fun-loving delegates to the dance floor. The Gala Dinner at PICC at the end of the Summit also won raves from the delegates because Filipino cuisine was bannered, thanks to the culinary expertise of a dozen famous Filipino chefs, each assigned to a stall where their respective specialties were made available to the delegates.
As far as hosting big global events is concerned, I have to say that nothing beats the creativity, the colors, the sounds, and the tastes of the Philippines. I now echo the Department of Tourism’s enhanced tagline every time I talk to foreigners—It’s More Fun With You In The Philippines!
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