Home > Industry Observation > INSIGHTS & INSPIRATIONS >Insight & Inspirations | China Re-Opens: Investing in Tourism for Jobs, Growth and Rural Development

Insight & Inspirations | China Re-Opens: Investing in Tourism for Jobs, Growth and Rural Development


Zurab Pololikashvili

UNWTO Secretary-General

Full text:


Distinguished Colleagues and friends,I feel privileged to be one of the first heads agency to return to China since travel restrictions were lifted, and it is an honor to be here to celebrate this step forward with you in person. This is the moment the world has been waiting for! Right here and now, history is being made, and the story of tourism is rewritten. Today, the reality on the streets of China is totally different from how it was just one year ago. Your re-opening signals the end to what has been the biggest crisis in the history of tourism.

Almost overnight, our sector was brought to a complete standstill. 2020 became the worst year on record for global tourism. The world lost almost 3 trillion US dollars in tourism revenues between 2020 and 2022. That is why being here today sends a message of hope and confidence. Recovery is now underway. According to our latest data, international tourist arrivals could get back to 80 to 95% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year. And the re-opening of China is a critical piece for recovery. As I said – this is a huge day, one we have all been waiting for. Our data proves it.

While other regions experienced strong recoveries last year, Asia and the Pacific have struggled to bounce back. Before COVID hit, in 2019 alone: Chinese tourists took 166 million international trips. That is an impressive figure by any standard: four times the total number of international trips UNWTO counted for the whole world that year! That’s why the return of China’s tourism will also be a major boost for destinations across the country. So it really is no exaggeration to say that today is a historic day. China is back. Travel to China is safe. China is ready to offer a warm welcome to visitors from everywhere.

The positive energy will be felt across the economy and UNWTO is ready to support China and our members as we restore tourism and reconnect the world. There are some things we cannot measure – the value of families being reunited, of young people seeing the world, or international visitors getting to enjoy China’s rich heritage and modern dynamism after waiting more than 1,000 days. China is welcomed as a major engine of growth for this year and next. And if China is an engine of global recovery, then Chinese tourists are the fuel powering it forward. To put it simply: more than 1.4 billion people and three years of pent-up demand. You are moving in the right direction. The restart of tourism is not an end in itself.It is an opportunity. And the return of China to international tourism can help kickstart our transformation.

Above all we need to rethink tourism:

  • As an employer
  • As a driver of opportunity
  • As an economic pillar
  • And as a solution to the climate emergency.

To achieve our goals, we first need two things: Economic capital, and Human capital. Without the investment, and without the people, all our best plans to transform tourism will struggle to get off the ground. This year, UNWTO will celebrate World Tourism Day around the theme of Tourism and Green Investments. The theme could not be more relevant. In too many cases, investment is the missing ingredient to turn plans for a more sustainable sector into reality. Over recent years, Chinese investment has helped transform emerging economies all over the world. Directed towards tourism, investment helps build the vital infrastructure our sector needs. It can also build resilience and advance sustainability, allowing tourism to live up to its climate action responsibilities. Moreover, since many members of the global community look to China for leadership, your commitment to tourism will be noted and even copied.

Ladies and gentlemen, creating jobs is a priority, for our sector for our countries. UNWTO is working to build and support tourism talent. Since the start of the crisis, we continued to expand our education programs. UNWTO works with leading universities and institutions. And with our partners and Member States –- we are offering many thousands of scholarships. We call on all governments to realize the importance of tourism education. And for businesses to be bolder in making clear the benefits tourism can offer. Again, China is setting a course for others to follow. This also includes how tourism is now being embraced as a driver of rural development. China is an active member of our growing Best Tourism Villages network. You are showing the rest of the world how to diversify your tourism sector to deliver the social and economic benefits more widely and more fairly.

Only yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Yu Cun, a UNWTO Best Tourism Village. I congratulate all those working to put it on the map. The re-opening of China to international tourism comes as our sector is recognized like never before at the highest level of the political agenda.

I know I was not alone in looking forward to this moment – governments, cities, and small communities everywhere have sorely missed Chinese tourists. And travellers have missed the chance to see China for themselves. It is good to be back – and to have you back. Together, we can start to re-write the history of our sector.

Thank you.