Kathmandu, December 16:

The year 2006 marks a double anniversary for international tourism. UNWTO celebrates the 60th anniversary of the existence of an organisation at the service of world tourism, and 30 years of its presence in Madrid, states a press release issued here.

During this time, tourism has become a ‘major economic, social and cultural phenomenon’, sai-d UNWTO secretary-general Francesco Frangialli, on the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition ‘1946-2006: Sixty Years of an Organisation Serving World Tourism’ at UNWTO headquarters in Madrid.

Tourism has transformed itself and represents today one of the most dynamic economic sectors. Over the last three decades alone, internatio-nal tourist arrivals increa-sed five-fold to 806 million in 2005, and tourism expe-nditures totalled $682 billion, according to UNWTO. “Tourism demand continues to exceed expectations and proves resilience to adverse external factors.”

Due to the conversion, in October 2003, into an agency of the first rank within the UN system, the UNWTO now enjoys recognition at the highest level as well as increased visibility. “Tourism is now considered by the international community on an equal footing with other major activities of human society, ranging from industry and agriculture, to education, health and labour, among others”, Francesco Frangialli said.

The outgoing UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, stated in a special message on the opening of the exhibition that “tourism can play a major role in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. It can thus make a significant contribution to global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals”.

Annan underscored the importance of tourism within the global UN agenda. “That is why the transformation of the World Tourism Organisation into a specialised UN agency was so important, and I am delighted that it occurred during my tenure as UN secretary-general”, he added. UNWTO has the central and decisive role in the UN system in promoting responsible, sustainable and accessible tourism for all.