By Rai Umraopati Ray
Samarkand, Uzbekistan – The 25th General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) commenced in the historic city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, with a welcoming address by the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev highlighting the significance of hosting the event in the ancient city. President underscored the importance of tourism as a key driver of economic growth, emphasising the need to boost the industry, especially after the setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Mirziyoyev warmly greeted the international delegates and underscored the deep symbolism of hosting the milestone event in Samarkand, an age-old city that has been a crossroads of cultures for centuries. Samarkand, often referred to as the “Pearl of the Earth,” has played a pivotal role in bridging Eastern and Western civilizations and is now emerging as a prominent global tourist hub.
“We attach great significance to training specialists in the field of tourism. Thirty-five institutes of higher education in Uzbekistan train qualified specialists on the basis of international standards. Students from 19 countries study at the Samarkand “Silk Road” International University of Tourism and Cultural Heritage. The number of foreign tourists traveling to Uzbekistan has doubled. Revenues from tourist exports have increased 4 times. For example, this year the number of tourists from Japan has increased 5 times, from India and Italy – 3.5 times, from the United States – 2 times. According to estimates, a total of 7 million tourists will visit our country by the end of this year. By 2030, we intend to increase this figure to 15 million and domestic tourist flow to 25 million”, informed President Mirziyoyev
The President, in his address, noted that prior to the pandemic, the tourism sector accounted for approximately 10% of the world’s GDP and 7% of its exports, making it a crucial contributor to the global economy. He acknowledged that the pandemic had severely impacted the sector, causing a significant reduction in tourism export revenues and a loss of millions of jobs.
The President praised the resilience of the tourism industry, stating that, with collective efforts, the sector is showing signs of recovery, with almost one billion tourists traveling abroad last year, representing nearly 70% of pre-pandemic levels. This year, the numbers are expected to grow even further.
President Mirziyoyev highlighted the importance of the tourism sector in promoting common prosperity and sustainable development, as well as its role in fostering cultural exchanges and tolerance among nations. He commended the World Tourism Organization’s commitment to developing tourism globally and expanding its influence as a driver of economic growth.
Uzbekistan, he said, has embraced a comprehensive program of reforms in recent years, with a particular focus on the tourism sector, as part of the nation’s “open doors policy.” The country has introduced visa-free regimes for nationals of around a hundred countries and simplified electronic visa systems for 55 others. The President cited the creation of favorable business conditions, tax and customs benefits, and financial support as measures to boost the tourism sector.
In response to these efforts, Uzbekistan has implemented 800 infrastructure projects in two years, investing over $1 billion in tourism infrastructure in Samarkand alone. The “Ipak Yuli” Tourist Center, which hosted the General Assembly, was noted as one of these significant projects.
The President also highlighted investments in enhancing cultural tourism, with Uzbekistan being home to over 8,000 cultural heritage sites, over 200 of which are UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. Initiatives to restore and promote these sites have contributed to the country’s recognition as one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations, a safe tourist destination, and a winner of several international tourism awards.
Furthermore, Uzbekistan has set ambitious goals, aiming to host 15 million tourists and attract 25 million domestic tourists by 2030.
President Mirziyoyev proposed several initiatives to strengthen international cooperation in the tourism sector. These include the creation of a Global Safe Tourism Code under the United Nations to ensure the safety of tourists and an International Program of Action for the development of Green Tourism.
He also suggested the establishment of a “World Inclusive Tourism Year” in 2025 to promote tourism for people with disabilities and the development of inclusive tourism infrastructure.
The President proposed the establishment of a Council of Historical Cities for Tourism under the World Tourism Organization to promote cultural heritage sites and historical monuments. Uzbekistan offered to host the first meeting of the Council in the ancient city of Bukhara.
The President expressed Uzbekistan’s willingness to support the organization of the Global Youth Tourism Summit in Tashkent and called for the creation of a Global Media Campus to bring together media, journalists, and travel bloggers.
President Mirziyoyev also extended an invitation to declare Samarkand as the World Cultural Tourism Capital. He urged participants to embrace the unique history and heritage of Samarkand and adopt the relevant declaration.
“There is no doubt that the documents and agreements to be adopted at this world tourism organization’s general assembly session will make a significant contribution to the rapid development of the global tourism industry. I am confident that the investment and education forums held as part of the general assembly will become an effective platform for interaction of all world tour operators, universities and major companies. These forums showcase the rich historical and cultural heritage of all our regions, demonstrate the full potential of tourism opportunities, and present a set of promising investment projects”, he concluded.
Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary General said, “The UNWTO General Assembly gathers at a vital moment both for the tourism sector as well as for our societies. Tourism has weathered the biggest storm in its history, and we are now well on course to a return to pre-pandemic levels of international arrivals by the end of this year. At the same time, however, we must urgently face up to new challenges, most notably a mounting climate crisis, economic uncertainty and persisting geopolitical tensions. We can and must fulfil our duty to deliver on tourism’s potential as a source of sustainable development, opportunity, and understanding. I thank our generous hosts for their warm hospitality, and I look forward to a productive and inspiring General Assembly.”
In a video address, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations said, “Tourism brings progress. As one of the biggest sectors in the global economy, it has great power to bridge cultures, generate new opportunities and promote sustainable development. But tourism is also impacted by interlinked global challenges. The climate crisis is threatening many tourist destinations and the very survival of communities around the world. Many developing countries that depend on tourism are facing a growing financial crisis. We must harness the full potential of tourism to get back on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. That requires investing in sustainable and inclusive tourism – adopting zero-emission pathways; protecting the environment and biodiversity; creating decent jobs; and contributing to resilient social protection systems. I know that we can count on the UN World Tourism Organisation to carry this vision forward and together, build a better future, for people and planet.”