For countless rural communities around our country, tourism is a leading provider of employment and opportunities, most notably for women and youth. Tourism also enables rural communities to hold onto their unique cultural heritage and traditions, and the sector is vital for safeguarding habitat and endangered species. As the ultimate cross-cutting sector, tourism contributes directly or indirectly to all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Harnessing tourism as a driver of rural development will keep the global community on track to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The World Tourism Organization of the United Nations (UNWTO) designated 2020 as the Year of Tourism and Rural Development to highlight the unique role tourism can play in preserving and promoting natural and cultural heritage and curbing urban migration, and an opportunity to promote the potential of tourism to create jobs and opportunities.
Communities in rural areas struggle with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as these are usually much less-prepared to deal with the short and longer-term impacts of the crisis – jobs have been lost and small businesses placed at risk as restrictions on travel brought tourism to a standstill.
As the country continues to find ways to arrest the spread of the virus, everyone should learn from the pandemic and transform the tourism sector from business-as-usual into a more adaptive and resilient sector by integrating green, inclusive and sustainable recovery plans.
The government must prioritize and place rural development at the heart of tourism policies through education, investment, innovation and technology, which can transform the livelihoods of millions and preserve the environment and culture of the rural communities.
Furthermore, the rural tourist communities must adapt stricter safety and hygiene protocols, toward the new normal; and to promote eco-friendly practices such as bringing of eco-bottles and banning of single-use plastics.
The individuals may consider a slower, more thoughtful approach to travel. This includes keeping more of their adventures local, and traveling to destinations accessible by car, or simply by bicycles. Not only it is much closer to home so one could be able to save money and return quickly if needed, but it also incentivizes the rural communities, as it helps the tourism businesses closest to them, and it gets people to love and appreciate their own local culture. It will greatly contribute to the economic recovery of one’s own community and adjacent communities.
As we join forces to restart tourism, we must live up to our responsibility to ensure that tourism’s benefits are shared by all. This crisis is an opportunity to rethink the tourism sector and its contribution to the people and planet; an opportunity to build back better towards a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism.