U.N. agency marks a billion tourists

As the estimated number of tourists traveling this year hits a record one billion, the United Nations agency focused on world tourism unveiled a tip-laden campaign aimed at letting travelers know how they can best benefit the people and places they visit.

The “One Billion Tourists: One Billion Opportunities” campaign of the U.N. World Tourism Organization shows tourists that respecting local culture, preserving heritage or buying local goods when traveling can make a big difference.

“Today, we welcome the symbolic arrival of the one-billionth tourist,” said Taleb Rifai, according to a news release from the agency. “Your actions count. That is our message to the one billion tourists.” He is the secretary general.

People worldwide helped prioritize the campaign’s travel tips by voting for the ones they believed would best boost local populations.

“Buy Local” emerged as the winning piece of advice, while a close second was “Respect Local Culture,” said the agency. Voters were asked to pledge to follow the tips they endorsed.

“Through the right actions and choices, each tourist represents an opportunity for a fairer, more sustainable future,” Rifai said.

The campaign is in line with Madrid-based agency’s mandate to promote the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

As such, the World Tourism Organization said “Buy Local” is a call for tourists to buy food and souvenirs locally or hire local guides to ensure their spending translates into jobs and income for host communities.

It said “Respect Local Culture” aims to encourage tourists to learn more about their destination’s traditions, or some words in the local language, before leaving home.

The World Tourism Organization serves as a global forum and source of tourism know-how for its membership, which includes 155 countries.

It said in its release that, despite global economic uncertainty, international tourism continued to grow in 2012, with the symbolic one-billionth tourist cementing the industry’s position as one of the world’s largest economic sectors.

Tourism accounted for 9 per cent of global gross domestic product when totaling its direct, indirect and induced impact, the agency said, noting that one in every 12 jobs and up to 8 per cent of the total exports of the world’s U.N.-designated least developed countries depend on tourism.

While it was impossible to know exactly where the one-billionth tourist would arrive Thursday, the agency said many countries were celebrating the occasion by welcoming arriving vacationers.

The World Tourism Organization added that it was celebrating in Madrid by welcoming the symbolic one-billionth tourist in the Museo del Prado, the Spanish capital’s most-visited tourism attraction.

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