The historic city of Salvador de Bahía in north-eastern Brazil welcomed "Destinations2004", the first Annual Summit of the World Tourism Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development, set for December 1 to 6. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli and Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were among dozens of notables from around the world at the official opening ceremony, which took place on Wednesday.
Representatives from private business, society, NGOs, governments from around the world, researchers and students, have a chance to meet in a series of events aimed at sharing information and assessing projects that seek to change destinies - of people, communities, regions and nations - through sustainable tourism. In all, at least 40 countries are represented.
A number of official tourism-related gatherings happening at the same time as the World Forum's Annual Summit turned Salvador into a sort of tourism capital of the world for six days. Chief among these meetings is the 74th Session of the WTO's Executive Council on 2 and 3 December, which brought 28 tourism ministers and their delegations to the city. A three-day WTO seminar on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism is taking place from 2 to 4 December.
"At summits like Destinations2004, participants have the opportunity to assess the results generated by conceptual and concrete experiences around the world. Strategies and approaches are evaluated, polished, and disseminated once it becomes clear they can be useful in other countries and situations," said Mr. Frangialli. "The Forum is an ongoing initiative, global in scope, developed in Brazil - where it will be hosted until 2006 - and designed to generate millions of job and income opportunities in developing nations through sustainable tourism," he added.
The President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said that "Brazil sees tourism with relevance and still has secret wonders that its people have not explored yet".
"Our purpose is not to be conformed to the tourism current growth, but to turn this possibility into a sustainable growth process for the next 10 to 25 years," the President stated. He also pointed out the transit difficulty and its influences on the tourism business. For this reason many Brazilian airports are being renovated.
The integration of Latin America issue has been discussed, and the Brazilian Government strongly defends the need to improve Mercosur in order to consolidate it as a destination. That is why Brazil has been financing the construction of bridges and roads in countries, such as, Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay. The President emphasized the importance of tourism towards peace and development, despite the existence of violence everywhere. In 2004, compared with last year, Brazil experienced a 14 per cent increase in the number of international arrivals.
The president concluded his speech by saying that Brazilians should stop complaining about their country and start loving it as it is.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a message which was read at the opening ceremony of the World Tourism Forum stating that "tourism has become the world's largest economic sector and a central factor in the life of many people. As tourism spans an increasingly wide range of issues and activities, it cannot be looked at in isolation from the global agenda of the United Nations."
"It is now widely understood that tourism can play a significant role in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. Indeed, international tourism is one of the few ways in which the least developed countries have managed to increase their participation in the global economy. In all but a few of the LDCs, and notably the small island developing States, it is the primary source of foreign exchange.
At the same time, tourism must be managed carefully to prevent a wide range of harmful effects that are becoming all too visible in many popular destinations, including the destruction of natural heritage through overbuilding; ever higher demands on scarce water and energy resources; damage to ecologically fragile areas caused by irresponsible development; threats to indigenous cultures; exploitation of workers; organized sex tourism, and -- most tragic of all -- child sex tourism, which affects millions of children each year.
An important step in the right direction is the World Tourism Organization's Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, which creates a much-needed frame of reference for the responsible and sustainable development of world tourism. The Plan of Action adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg also calls for the promotion of sustainable tourism development. We must also build on the success of the 2002 International Year of Ecotourism, and implement the Quebec Declaration, adopted at the World Ecotourism Summit," underlined Mr. Annan.