Application Opens For UNWTO’s ‘Best Tourism Villages’ Initiative

by Olamilekan Okeowo

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has announced the launch of the “Best Tourism Villages” initiative, which aims to identify the best examples of rural villages harnessing the power of tourism to provide opportunity and safeguard their communities, local traditions and heritage.

UNWTO Members States can present up to three villages to be assessed by the Initiative, the applications will close on July 31, 2021 while the selected villages will be announced in October 2021, on the occasion of the 24th session of the UNWTO General Assembly in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Through the initiative, UNWTO is searching for villages that take innovative and transformative approaches to tourism in rural areas in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The aim of the initiative which was launched during the opening of UNWTO’s Regional Office in the Middle East (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), focus of the Office on, among other issues, the role of tourism in rural development.

It also envisioned how to make tourism a positive force for transformation, rural development and community wellbeing, to maximise the contribution of the sector to reducing regional inequalities and fighting against rural depopulation.

Speaking on the initiative, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stated that it also seeks to advance the role of tourism in valuing and safeguarding rural villages along with their associated landscapes, knowledge systems, biological and cultural diversity, local values and activities, including gastronomy.

“Tourism can be a driver of positive change for rural communities all around the world. We want to recognize the uniqueness of each village and showcase the best initiatives to make tourism a means for a better future in rural areas. As we restart tourism, we work to ensure that we leave no one – and no village- behind” he said.

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On his part, His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb, Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Tourism, said: “We are proud to be a partner of UNWTO as they launch this important initiative. For our rural communities, tourism is an opportunity to share their vibrant culture, amazing food and famous Saudi hospitality, while benefiting from the socio-economic opportunities provided by the sector.”

The initiative includes three pillars namely; ‘Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO’ Label, ‘Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO’ Upgrade Programme and ‘Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO’ Network

For the ‘Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO’ Label, the Label will recognize a village which is an outstanding example of a rural tourism destination with recognized cultural and natural assets, that preserves and promotes rural and community-based values, products and lifestyle and has a clear commitment to innovation and sustainability in all its aspects – economic, social and environmental.

The ‘Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO’ Upgrade Programme will benefit a number of villages that do not fully meet the Label criteria. These villages will receive support from UNWTO and its Partners in improving elements of the areas identified as gaps in the evaluation process.

The ‘Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO’ Network will provide a space for exchanging experiences and good practices, learnings, and opportunities. It will include representatives of the villages awarded the ‘Best Tourism Village by UNWTO’ Label, the villages participating in the Upgrade Programme, as well as experts, public and private sector partners engaged in the promotion of tourism for rural development.

UNWTO Members States can present up to three villages to be assessed by the Initiative. Applications will close on 31 July 2021. The selected villages will be announced in October 2021, on the occasion of the 24 session of the UNWTO General Assembly (Marrakesh, Morocco).

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