World Tourism Day isn’t recognized until September 27, but the need to focus on sustainable tourism and viable climate change solutions has taken center stage at the UN General Assembly meetings this week.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) spearheads vital efforts to rejuvenate and expand the tourism sector, a mission it has diligently pursued since 1980 when it instituted World Tourism Day on September 27. This significant day serves as a beacon for raising global awareness about the profound impact of tourism on social, political, and economic dimensions worldwide. 

As we draw nearer to World Tourism Day 2023, the UNWTO reiterates the pressing need for forward-thinking investments that champion the well-being of people, our planet, and prosperity alike. The theme of this year’s World Tourism Day is Tourism and Green Investment. This focus on green investment and sustainability is fresh on our minds, especially those of us affected by the catastrophes from natural disasters including the earthquake in Morocco, the Libya floods, North American wildfires, and the continually brewing Atlantic hurricane season. UNWTO highlights the need for more and better-targeted investments for people, for the planet, and for prosperity. Now is the time for new and innovative solutions, not just traditional investments that promote and underpin economic growth and productivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic, while severely disrupting the tourism industry, unveils an opportunity for reimagining tourism investments through a sustainable lens. Travel and tourism were among the most affected sectors with airplanes grounded, hotels closed, and travel restrictions in place. Data gathered by UNWTO shows that there were one billion fewer international tourist arrivals in 2021 accounting for an overall loss of $1.0 trillion in total export revenues from international tourism in 2021. In the first quarter of 2023, international tourist arrivals grew 86%, reaching 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the same quarter. 

Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the UNWTO notes, “Global tourism is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of year. By investing in people and projects that make a difference, we can deliver on the sector’s potential to drive growth and opportunity for all.” 

UNWTO’s focus for 2023 emphasizes sustainable investments that balance environmental stewardship, economic viability, and socio-cultural preservation. Sustainable tourism should optimize environmental resources, respect host communities’ culture, and ensure economic benefits.

The Necessity of Sustainable Investment

Tourism, while vulnerable to the threats of climate change, contributes to its overall exacerbation. The UNWTO is engaged in the dialogue and conversation surrounding issues such as extreme weather events, rising insurance costs, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, plastic pollution, and overall damage to destinations’ assets and attractions. 

UNWTO’s focal point for World Tourism Day 2023 underscores the necessity for investments that target not only economic growth but also sustainable development across a spectrum of tourism segments, including mass tourism. This approach calls for balancing environmental stewardship, economic viability, and socio-cultural preservation to ensure long-term sustainability. Addressing this requires a strong and nuanced response, including mitigating extreme weather events, reducing insurance costs, conserving water, protecting biodiversity, and preserving destinations. Sustainable tourism needs to adhere to three principles: optimizing environmental resources, respecting socio-cultural authenticity, and ensuring economic viability. 

“Today, the climate emergency is threatening many travel destinations and the very survival of communities and economies that depend on tourism.” António guiterres, UN SEcecretary-general

“Tourism is a powerful force for progress and mutual understanding. But in order to deliver its full benefits, this force must be protected and nurtured. Today, the climate emergency is threatening many travel destinations and the very survival of communities and economies that depend on tourism,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.  “And many developing countries that are severely affected by a changing climate are also facing a growing investment deficit and a cost-of-living crisis. On this World Tourism Day, we recognize the vital need for green investments to build a tourism sector that delivers for people and [the] planet.”

World Tourism Day 2023 calls us to come together in a global celebration of our collective commitment to a more sustainable and prosperous future. The main event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, promises a symphony of conversations, insights, and reflections. Concurrent events around the world include Padua’s third edition of the Sustainable Tourism Forum;  a special event at the Waterfalls of Edessa and Water Museum in Edessa, Greece; an event called “Bridging the Gap Between Tourism Education and Industry Demands” in Bucharest, Romania; The University of Curaçao’s Symposium on Green Investments: People, Planet, and Prosperity; the 5th Himalayan Hospitality & Tourism Awards in Siliguri, India.

How You Can Get Involved

You can wear the color blue on World Tourism Day as well as join the conversation and make your voice heard by using the social media tags: #WorldTourism Day, #WTD, or #WTD2023. Celebrate World Tourism Day by joining the photo filter campaign through this link. Support greener habits by purchasing a BPA-free water bottle instead of a disposable bottle. Embark on greener ways of being a tourist in your own city like taking a bike ride or urban hike and immerse yourself in local greenery. 

Consider ways of reducing or offsetting your carbon emissions by planting trees and donating to organizations like Native and Sustainable Travel International, which offers a short-form documentary series, Sustainable Travel: Where Next, taking viewers on a different kind of journey, exploring sustainability initiatives. Consider visiting one of the world’s most eco-friendly countries including Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom for your next vacation and bring home some inspiration. 

Consider Kayak’s City Index for Mindful Travelers, which groups 28 factors into four categories to help determine some of the greenest cities to spend your thoughtful dollar. Which cities scored in the top three scores? Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Graz. By making small waves in your local communities and on your own individual personal and business trips you can contribute to a global movement to promote not only change but a better future for some of the most vulnerable destinations across the world. 

As we unite in diverse events across the globe to celebrate this significant day, let us embrace sustainable practices and foster global partnerships, paving the way for a more resilient and prosperous tourism sector. Together, we chart a path toward a brighter, greener, and more inclusive future for all. 

For more information, visit The United Nations World Tourism Organization website here. And if you’re looking for more ways to reduce your carbon footprint, check out our list of travel tips.