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19 Mar, 2013

Former UNWTO Chief’s Letter to Member States The Day Iraq was Attacked

Editor’s Note: Mr. Francesco Frangialli, was Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, between 1998–2009. On March 20, 2003, he wrote this letter to UNWTO member states. It was made available exclusively to Travel Impact Newswire. I am releasing it today as a matter of record and a contribution to the history of travel & tourism. Most importantly, the letter highlights the overarching need for an open, honest debate about travel & tourism’s linkages to geopolitics, peace, security and economic development. Its profound contents are worthy of note in their entirety but key passages have been highlighted in bold.


The (former) Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, Mr. Francesco Frangialli, has sent the following letter to the Member States regarding the start of military operations in Iraq.

Madrid, 20 March 2003


At this time, when the Iraq conflict has erupted, I wish to transmit to you the information gathered and the analyses developed over the past months by our Organization, in particular through the work carried out by the Recovery Committee, which our General Assembly established a year and a half ago to face the difficult situation that we were entering at the time, and which has continued until now.

Obviously, it is not the purpose of this letter to pass judgment on the political dimension of this conflict – it is not the World Tourism Organization’s place to do so. It is our mission, however, to underline whenever necessary tourism’s contribution to peace, and conversely, its vulnerability to acts or war and terrorism. Above all, it is our duty to spare no effort in ensuring that world tourism can recover as strongly and as rapidly as possible in the wake of a major shock.


Since 11 September 2001, we have been experiencing the most serious crisis in the history of world tourism. Djerba, Bali, Mombassa… the attacks have come one after another, targeting foreign visitors who have become innocent victims of conflicts with which they have nothing to do. Despite this, fear has not managed to sweep everything away and tourism has not collapsed as some were only too quick to predict.

In 2001, despite the combination of the tragic attacks in New York and Washington and the worldwide economic downturn that had already begun, the number of international tourist arrivals fell by just 0.5 per cent, while domestic tourism increased in all countries. In 2002, despite an economy still in the doldrums, tourism managed to turn the trend around. With 715 million international arrivals representing an increase of 3 per cent, the industry was back to positive growth. Although this recovery will eventually be less spectacular when the revenue figures become known, tourism’s performance last year was much better than what everyone expected, once again demonstrating our industry’s resilience.

Although the Americas suffered in 2002, due to the continuing weakness of the U.S. generating market and the economic difficulties of certain important countries, which affected intraregional traffic, the Asia-Pacific region, for example, continued with a rapid growth of 8 per cent. While destinations in North Africa were affected, those in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Africa generally held up well. The biggest surprise was the Middle East: despite all the tensions in the region, it saw an 11 per cent increase in international arrivals, thanks largely to the strong growth in intraregional traffic. Europe held its own with a 2.4 per cent increase in flows.

The sector’s performance over the past few months has confirmed our previous analyses: the need to travel, whether for business or leisure, is too deeply ingrained in our societies to be easily effaced. In spite of all the obstacles and risks consumers may perceive, they will do what they can in order to travel, even if it means reducing their expenditure, changing their destination, postponing their trip, shortening their stay or favouring domestic tourism to the detriment of international tourism.

This exceptional steadiness of demand makes it possible to overcome higher costs on the supply side, resulting from higher expenditures in energy, security and insurance, with repercussions on the entire sector, air transport most of all, thus constituting further handicaps.

In this difficult situation that we are entering, and with the hostilities in Iraq poised to deal yet another blow to a tourism industry that is already in a weakened state, a fundamental source of confidence remains, based on consumer behaviour.


Although history never repeats itself quite the same way, we can look back to many instances of global or regional crises, such as the successive conflicts in the Balkans, where pre-crisis growth rates were recovered quickly after a brutal shock. The most appropriate reference point for the current situation is undoubtedly the Gulf War. It should be recalled that on that occasion, tourism did not go into recession. Growth slowed down to 1.2 per cent in 1991, but never turned negative. The following year the industry posted a spectacular 8.3 per cent jump.

This new conflict comes at a time when the sector we are responsible for is perhaps at the lowest point of the curve. Tourism consumers and enterprises are just like other economic operators; when turbulent times are on the horizon, they put off their decisions because there is nothing they dislike more than uncertainty. Even before it began, the Iraqi conflict had already had a negative impact on our industry by fuelling fear, creating a wait-and-see attitude, discouraging bookings, and delaying investment plans.

From this point on, the situation is bound to clear up. This reduction in uncertainty, which has already been reflected in the markets, is in itself good news, even if we all would have preferred a clarification resulting from something other than the worst possible solution as far as our sector is concerned: war. Tourism and war do not get along well together. They are like fire and water, and nothing good ever happens when the two meet. A large number of enterprises, already weakened by two years of business difficulties, are threatened in the short term, along with tens of thousands of jobs.

Now that war has failed to be averted, we can only hope that it is as short and as geographically limited as possible. But above all, we should keep in mind that there are two powerful reasons to remain reasonably hopeful, which I underlined recently during the inauguration of ITB Berlin.

The first is that never in the history of tourism, has there been a deep and lasting recession. Tourism has always bounced back and it has always done so quickly. In these difficult times, the tourism industry is not a particularly weak sector of global activity. On the contrary, it is a factor that ensures stability and promotes recovery. If the conflict remains short and contained, it is not out of the question for recovery to come during the second half of the year.

The second reason for hope has to do with the fact that the tourism industry has always come out of the turbulent times it has encountered in much better shape than it has gone into them. The economic and financial crisis of Asia-Pacific and Russia in 1997-1998 is a clear example: these destinations came out of the recession, stronger and more firmly on the road to sustainable development. We can see this happening once again. Research by the WTO has shown that the adjustment period we are going through is accelerating changes in consumer habits and transforming the fabric of industry. It has seen the arrival of new operators, especially in air transport with the emergence of low-cost airlines, while others have disappeared. It has led to restructuring and regrouping, the implementation of new technologies, the modernization of marketing techniques, the strengthening of cooperation between the private and public sectors, to the benefit of all involved.


In this troubled context, the reports and analyses of our Recovery Committee take on greater importance than ever, and I appeal to all our Members to draw on the information and recommendations they contain, in the decisions that will have to be made in order to limit the impact of this new shock.

Over the next few weeks, the WTO will be paying particular attention to the situation of countries affected by terrorist acts, and that of the most vulnerable regions: the Middle East (and by extension, North Africa), and South Asia. During the meeting of our Regional Commission for the Middle East, to be held in Bahrain from 28 to 30 April, a mobilization of efforts will be sought to boost intraregional and long- haul tourism for the benefit of the destinations concerned. For South Asia, the Regional Commission meeting to be held in Nepal from 1 to 3 April will be accompanied by a seminar on “Crisis Management”, which is a new application of the efforts that have been undertaken in this area under the auspices of the Recovery Committee following the seminar held in Cairo last September.

During this difficult period for the Arab-Muslim world, it is important for it to be able to use tourism, as many of its governments wish to do, as an instrument of openness and as a channel of communication with the rest of the international community. It is our mission to respond to this wish — in particular, by introducing the Arabic language among the instruments of our work — and to show our solidarity with the Arab-Muslim world. The fact that many countries of the Gulf region – Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait — have joined the WTO over the past two years, with others preparing to do the same, shows that we are achieving this.


It goes without saying that, above and beyond the specific efforts imposed by the circumstances, we will not slacken in the endeavours that we have already undertaken for the benefit of other parts of the world, particularly those in favour of the least developed countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, and to which we have made a commitment in our programme of work. We cannot ignore and we ought not neglect the specific needs of each region or group of countries.


I wish to conclude by underlining that despite the crisis – or perhaps because of it, insofar as it has opened the eyes of many with regard to the economic importance of tourism – the tourism sector is gaining worldwide recognition, and our work on the tourism satellite account has contributed to this. After all, despite the crisis, tourism has continued to be among the top export categories at the international level, with receipts of 464 billion dollars in 2001.

In 2002, decisive advances were made, with the successful celebration of the International Year of Ecotourism declared by the United Nations, and the inclusion of tourism in the Plan of Action adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It is now internationally recognized as an important tool in the fight against poverty, and the STEP (Sustainable Tourism for Eliminating Poverty) initiative, undertaken in conjunction with UNCTAD, is aimed at enhancing this contribution.

At the same time, the World Tourism Organization is itself growing in influence and visibility in the international community, and has begun its transformation into a specialized agency of the United Nations. We hope to complete this conversion by the end of the year, and to take the decisive step during our General Assembly in Beijing in the month of October. Beyond the Iraq crisis and upon its conclusion, we are convinced that the need for multilateral cooperation within the framework of the United Nations system will be felt more strongly and more urgently than ever. It is important that tourism be a stakeholder in such cooperation.


Madam, Sir,

We reiterate our confidence in this sector, which, though vulnerable, is capable of overcoming even the worst obstacles. Rest assured that you can rely on your Organization’s support during this difficult period for each of its member countries.

Accept, Sir/Madam, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Francesco Frangialli