This month saw the global travel and tourism industry coming together again at World Travel Market London to sign business deals and discuss the key topics affecting the sector. The event was attended by around 50,000 of the most senior executives – including a record 10,500 senior buyers from the WTM Buyers Club.
And despite myriad political and socio-economic challenges facing the world, the take-home message for me from the three days was the strength of optimism in the sector.
A poll of our stakeholders revealed that three quarters expected the industry to grow, with 8 out of 10 predicting growth for their company. We estimate that around £3 billion in industry deals will be agreed as a result of WTM London 2017 – a record in the event’s 38-year history.
This positivity was prevalent throughout the event, with many new and emerging niches within the industry taking the opportunity for their moment in the spotlight.
The wedding and honeymoon sector is a perfect example of this. Estimated to be worth $300 billion, the sector claims to be “almost recession proof”, with weddings still one of the most important events in a couple’s life. WTM London hosted its first-ever dedicated session on the wedding and honeymoon sector and anticipates increasing the focus on the sector in the future. But despite the optimism, travel continues to face challenges – terrorism, and of course the uncertainty of Brexit, another key theme for this year’s event.
Another area of concern is one which could be argued is the industry’s own making – the issue of overtourism, which WTM London put at the heart of this event. It also formed the key topic for discussion at both the UNWTO and WTM Ministers’ Summit and WTM World Responsible Tourism Day (WRTD).
Speaking at the Ministers’ Summit, Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary General, acknowledged 2017 had seen a number of protests against overtourism, with slogans such as “tourists go home” and “tourists are terrorists”. “This is a wake-up call,” he told delegates. “We have to make decisions now. We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities.”
Harold Goodwin, WTM Responsible Tourism Advisor, was not optimistic about the commitment to tackling overtourism though. Addressing the WRTD audience, he said: “As a whole the industry is still doing very little, many are in denial. Destinations have an overtourism problem but they just want more growth.”
However, across the show the industry defended the economic and social benefits that tourism brings, alongside discussing how it can tackle the issue.
I applaud the global travel and tourism sector for being so open to the challenges of overtourism.
We heard across both days how individual resorts and countries have put in place policies to limit overtourism, and this must continue.
Tourism does bring economic benefits to many places around the world, but it must make sure that in doing so, it does not damage the communities which attract visitors in the first place.
Simon Press is senior director of WTM London