The 18th session of the UNWTO General Assembly in Astana, Kazakhstan, concluded last week with unanimous endorsement of a Roadmap for Recovery to mainstream travel and tourism into economic stimulus packages being considered by global leaders. It underscored the enormous importance of the sector for job creation, trade and development, according to a statement released by the UNTWO.

The assembly expressed strong concern about the dangers of increasing taxes which focus on the sector at a time of economic uncertainty and called on governments to reconsider proposed increases.

It also adopted a strong declaration on Facilitation of Tourism designed to encourage governments to remove unnecessary regulatory and bureaucratic restrictions on travel which hamper its flow and reduce its economic impacts

The Assembly also made significant steps to better prepare UNWTO for future challenges, by electing a new Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, with a new management team.

The Assembly approved the Roadmap for Recovery to respond to the economic crisis and its effect on the travel and tourism sector. The Roadmap is a manifesto that identifies the sector’s importance in global economic resilience; stimulus and transformation to a green economy. It details areas where the travel and tourism sector can play an essential role in post-crisis recovery in terms of jobs, infrastructure, trade and development. It calls on world leaders to place tourism and travel at the core of stimulus packages and the long-term green economy transformation. It calls for special attention and support for developing states in terms of capacity building, technology transfer and financing. It also sets out a basis for action for governments and the industry to deal with the short and long term economic, climate and poverty challenges in a coherent way.

The Assembly called for a moratorium on burdensome travel taxes – citing particularly the UK Airport Passenger Duty - which targets tourism, places a serious burden on poor countries as they face difficult economic challenges and it undermines efforts to promote fair tourism trade by distort markets. The Assembly passed a Declaration encouraging governments to review burdensome border control regulations and visa policies and to simplify them wherever possible to boost travel and increase its economic impacts.

The Assembly expressed its support for a successful outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Conference and endorsed the UN-led Seal the Deal Campaign which seeks to. galvanize widespread support for a fair and balanced Copenhagen accord.

The Assembly also reviewed and endorsed action taken by UNWTO in the framework of the UN system, to increase tourism’s preparedness to respond to the H1N1 pandemic.

The Assembly adopted the Astana Declaration underscoring the relevance of the Silk Road Initiative, which highlights the exceptional value and diversity of the tourism potential of the countries traversed by the ancient Silk Roads.

The Assembly welcomed Vanuatu as a new Full Member, while a total of 89 private and public Affiliate Members also joined. UNWTO now has 161 Member states and regions and a record high 409 Affiliate Members. The Assembly also called upon those UN member countries that do not yet belong to the UNWTO to join the Organization.

The Assembly accepted the invitation of the Republic of Korea to hold its nineteenth session in 2011 on the dates to be agreed upon with the Government of that country.