China applauded as pillar of global travel

Promoting innovation, preserving culture help sector prosper, UN tourism official says

By XU WEIWEI in Hong Kong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-21 09:31
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Foreign tourists visit the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on May 15. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Editor's note: As the People's Republic of China celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding this year, China Daily asked prominent international figures to reflect on their relationship with the country and to talk of the direction in which they see it going.

For Natalia Bayona, a senior official from the United Nations' specialized agency for tourism, China is impressive for embracing innovation and development while successfully preserving its history and culture.

The executive director of UN Tourism, which was previously known as the United Nations World Tourism Organization, said she has not only been impressed by the virtues of people in China, such as their hospitality and generosity, but also by its development, including the embrace of innovative technologies and the way its tourism industry is planned.

Bayona, from Colombia, has visited China at least 10 times and returned from a cultural event in Quanzhou, Fujian province, in April. She said China's technological advancement is very important for tourism, including the use of artificial intelligence. Innovation has become one of the key pillars of tourism growth, as well as one of the main priorities of UN Tourism, she said.

Bayona, 38, was the first person under 40 to reach the position of executive director of UN Tourism in 2023.

In the fields of technology and innovation, Bayona said that UN Tourism — which promotes responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism and is headquartered in Madrid — works with more than 10,000 startups from more than 150 countries.

The most important thing is that those startups are focused on AI solutions to solve the challenges in the tourism industry, such as educating people through AI, measuring the capacity of the destinations and allocating tourism resources.

Bayona said that globally, tourism last year ended at 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

"The Asian markets are driving good recovery … (with) better connectivity, visa relaxations. And, of course, Asia, and particularly speaking, China, is a strong market for Europe," she said.

In this sense, it is "not only a positive factor but also is part of amazing results that Europe has when it comes to tourism".

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