The Significance of Tourism in Addressing APEC 2008 Priority Areas

Lima, Peru, 09 April 2008
  • Speech by Ambassador Juan Carlos Capuñay, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to make this presentation to the Tourism Ministerial Meeting of 2008. "Responsible Tourism" is among the timeliest of topics and I should like to take the opportunity to draw your attention to its particular relevance to APEC member economies and the priorities we share.
APEC 2008 is distinct not only because it is being chaired by an economy with strong historic, social and commercial ties to Asia - and yet, divergent in flavor from economies across the Pacific Ocean. It is also a year in which we have determined to pay greater attention to the social dimensions of free trade and investment. While these aspects tend to be overlooked so routinely, they are perhaps the most defining ones.
This current period in time can be viewed as a catalyst for the international community; the World Trade Organization's Doha Development Agenda is at a critical stage; the world's financial system has been and continues to be shaken by the rapid fluctuations of a traditionally stable currency; the consequences of climate change can be seen throughout the world and the energy market has been impacted by the dramatic increase in the price of oil with non-oil producing economies experiencing the most adverse effects.
Our response to this state of affairs is critical in shaping future scenarios. Indeed, it is a time of unparalleled opportunity.
In 2002, Asia-Pacific became the second most visited region in the world after Europe and has continued to experience steady growth. In fact, even after cumulative negative effects of the 2003 SARS epidemic and the December 2004 tsunami, international tourism began to rise after 2006, suggesting remarkable stability of the tourism industry.
By 2020, according to the World Tourism Organization, East Asia and the Pacific will receive an estimated 397 million tourists per year with annual growth rates of over 5 percent, compared to the world average of 4.1 percent. This means that tourism might be considered not just as a reliable source of revenue but as an anchor to many other objectives within the APEC agenda.
The 2008 APEC Chair's vision - a "New Commitment to Asia-Pacific Development" is perhaps best explained as the same commitment but with a renewed perspective. We look in the same direction as before, but we do so with greater clarity. As APEC shapes regional trends through collective policy, we are committed to giving concerted attention to sectors that have so often been overlooked but which are fundamental to any real gains in the Asia-Pacific.
To illustrate, small to medium enterprises account for over 98 percent of all enterprises and employ as much as 60 percent of the work force in the APEC region. Yet, they account for between only 30 and 35 percent of exports and many feel that their participation in the global economy is undermined by both internal and external factors. The fact may seem incongruous but, nonetheless, it makes apparent a wealth of opportunities. It is a sector with enormous potential for economies to increase foreign revenue sources.
Similarly, we recognize the need to fortify labor, to improve the technical and language skills of students. Again, these observations are positive: because concerted efforts can turn existing potential into future success.
In 2008, we are for the first time emphasizing corporate social responsibility. A thriving economy demands thriving business; and thriving business demands a thriving community. It is not only possible. It is necessary.
Sustainable tourism is a key economic driver for the Asia-Pacific region as well as a vehicle through which to address many APEC objectives.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism and travel in the APEC region currently account for the employment of over 100 million people. In fact, tourism represents one of the main sources of income for many member economies. In 2006, Asia-Pacific claimed 20 percent of international tourist receipts - an equivalent of US$ 153 billion - and upward trends in tourist arrivals suggest that revenues could be increased exponentially.
Macau increased tourist arrivals by 18 percent over the previous year, largely through the development of hotels. Thailand's increase of 20 percent has been attributed to quick recovery and the ability to revive a traditionally strong industry after the tsunami damages which occurred in 2004. Singapore, whose population of about 4 million, welcomed 10.3 million visitors in 2007 - an increase of more than 5 percent over 2006 and the greatest number of annual arrivals ever recorded. Even more impressive is the increase of tourism receipts by over 11 percent to almost 14 billion Singapore dollars.
The Tourism Working Group recognizes the growing influence of the tourism industry in promoting economic growth and social development in the Asia-Pacific region. And the APEC Tourism Charter reflects a collective commitment to improve the economic, cultural, social and environmental well-being of APEC Member Economies through tourism.
It has been estimated that, by 2010, employment in travel and tourism in the region will increase by more than 25 percent, meaning an additional 30 million new jobs throughout the Asia-Pacific.
This Ministerial Meeting must therefore consider the opportunities that exist within the tourism industry - opportunities to infuse our economies and the communities they comprise. The issues discussed at this meeting are high priorities and outcomes will bear a significant impact for the APEC region, particularly as the world becomes smaller.
The potential benefits to local communities are immense. Tourism creates jobs and promotes investment and development. It is no mere by-product that as employment, education and training becomes necessary; socio-economic disparities are addressed as well.
The 2007 Tourism Working Group in Bandung, Indonesia considered as priority areas for this Ministerial Meeting issues of climate change and cultural tourism. The Group recognized the synergistic relationship of tourism to a host of issues relevant to APEC.
Climate change is now recognized as both critical and imminent. Not only does the survival of businesses but the survival of humanity depend on our ability to respond to environmental change in ways that are positive and sustainable. Without crystalline waters and smooth white beaches, without cool forests and lush tropics, without the myriad of plant and animal lives waiting to be discovered, tourism - and its inherent benefits will be affected.
In establishing a functional balance between commercial development and the incalculable value of natural preservation, both community and industry can flourish. The Philippine province of Palawan offers a striking example of how tourism has been complemented and even enhanced by Eco-Tourism. The area manages to draw tourists while effectively alleviating poverty through community based eco-tourism and sustainable coastal fish farming.
With respect to culture, other communities have found innovative ways to address local issues while also drawing outside interest. Tourists, eager to have authentic learning experiences, are hosted in small villages where local people share their food, religion, customs, history and culture. These efforts are voluntary but they are also businesses and have successfully attracted both attention and revenue to less frequently visited locations.
Tourism Ministers have stressed the importance of travel and tourism among APEC members, aware that cooperation and understanding between them fosters a positive business climate. To this end, we must apply principles of structural reform to tourism in the same way that we do to other businesses: alleviating the cost and red tape of travel, because we know that good travel leads often to good business.
At the same time, we must look farther - farther in terms of distance and farther ahead in terms of time. At present, as much as 80 percent of international travel takes place within the same region. Of the worldwide arrivals projected for 2020, 1.2 billion will be intraregional. And according to the UN World Travel Organisation, long-haul travel worldwide will increase by an average of 5.4 percent each year until 2020.
This would be an opportune time to mention the importance that APEC places on public private partnerships. Through the recommendations made by the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) we are able to clearly focus on issues that make it easier to do business in the region. And I would like to congratulate APEC's Tourism Working Group in having such a close and fruitful relationship with local, regional and international organizations. Their contributions to APEC's work in the tourism sector have been substantial.
In closing the Pachacamac Declaration affirms the important role of tourism in the economic development of the Asia-Pacific, bringing together the interests of various sectors and economies. I would like to highlight that tourism can be seen as a means of addressing issues of social relevance; it contributes to poverty reduction, generates income and employment through the promotion of SMEs, and is an important factor in the conservation and protection of the environment.
The advantages that APEC's distinct economies have are many: each offers a unique cultural flavor. Our advantages as a collective are also many: it is for us to determine how they are to be used strategically. I am confident that the Pachacamac Declaration and the conclusions reached over the course of this meeting will contribute to appropriate action being taken by all APEC members.
Thank you.
*All facts and figures found at UNWTO (World Tourism Organization), WTTC (World Travel and Tourism Council) and the Singapore Tourist Board.