To assess the state of rural tourism in its member countries, UNWTO has published a new report which will also highlight the major obstacles and opportunities facing tourism as a policy driver for rural development. The report was launched during the 118th Session of the UNWTO Executive Council in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It forms part of the work of UNWTO’s Tourism for Rural Development Programme, established to develop initiatives and programmes to grow the sector in size and relevance as well as to monitor it in destinations worldwide.
In a press statement, UNWTO says that one of the key findings that emerged from this report is that more than half of all member states, at about 59 pc, stated that rural tourism is a priority. Almost all member states, accounting for 96 pc, foresee a better future for rural tourism in the upcoming years. Additionally, the creation of new jobs, improvement of livelihoods and fighting depopulation were the most frequently-cited opportunities offered by tourism for rural areas. Member States also identified the conservation and promotion of cultural heritage and environmental protection as among the biggest potential benefits of rural tourism.
The UNWTO research also identified three main challenges associated with realising the potential of tourism for rural development. According to the statement, the “infrastructure gap” in rural areas or deficiencies in roads, ports, airports and other infrastructure that allow access to rural areas remain a challenge for the surveyed countries. Further, rural depopulation, seasonality and farming product competitiveness add to this challenge, increasing the instability of rural businesses, which prevents the retention of population and human resources. The lack of education and training, as well as skills development, in addition to the capacity to attract and retain workforce talent add to the challenges, says the statement.
The statement adds that other challenges include limitations in accessing financial systems, restrictions in the development of innovative tourism products in rural areas, managing the impacts of degradation of natural resources, and limitations in handling data, digitalisation, and knowledge management.
UNWTO: Advancing Tourism for the SDGs
In terms of how tourism can help in supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UNWTO Member States emphasised the potential of rural tourism for advancing SDG 8, accounting for decent work and economic growth, SDG 1, accounting for no poverty, SDG 11 or sustainable cities and communities and SDG 5 accounting for gender equality.