15 June 2015 – In a joint effort to advance sustainable tourism development in the Danube region, UNWTO and the countries in the Danube have agreed to establish a Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories in the region, under the auspices of UNWTO. The formal agreement was signed during an official visit of UNWTO’s Secretary-General to Bulgaria (Sofia, Bulgaria, 8 June 2015).
On the occasion of the visit, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, met with the President of Bulgaria, Rosen Plevneliev, to discuss the cooperation between UNWTO and the country and how to strengthen Bulgaria’s tourism sector. During the meeting, Mr. Rifai commended the Bulgarian Government for setting up a Ministry dedicated to tourism.
“High-level political support has been key to the outstanding progress of the Bulgarian tourism sector in recent years. In 2014, more than 7 million international tourists visited Bulgaria, a new record, and a clear result of the political will to place tourism as a priority in the socio-economic development strategies of Bulgaria“ said Mr. Rifai.
The visit also included the signing of a Letter of Commitment between UNWTO and the Priority Area 3 on “promoting culture, tourism, people-to-people contacts” of the European Union Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR), representing 14 Member States, to establish a Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories under the auspices of UNWTO.
The Observatories will measure tourism’s social, economic and environmental impact along the Danube River and help define adequate sustainable tourism policies in the region. The Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories in the Danube will join the eight Observatories currently operating in China (seven) and the Aegean Islands of Greece. The agreement was signed by Nikolina Angelkova, Minister of Tourism of Bulgaria, joint coordinator country of EUSDR Priority Area 3, and Mr. Rifai, on the sidelines of the Meeting of the Danube Region – Sustainable tourism through cooperation with European funds and investments.
“The unique cultural and natural assets of the Danube region offer excellent opportunities for sustainable tourism development. I highly commend the Danube countries for taking a leadership role in launching this initiative with UNWTO”, said Mr.Rifai. ”With this network of observatories, the Danube Region is setting an example in Europe and beyond on how regional cooperation can advance sustainable development through tourism”, he added.
“Tourism is a main pillar in the economies of the countries from the Danube region. In the past year the Danube countries have been visited by over 120 million tourists, which generated revenues of over 70 billion euro. It is very important to focus our efforts on establishing the Danube brand as such and on becoming more recognizable worldwide, reaching distant markets in particular. I hope that together with our neighboring countries we will manage to efficiently use the available cross-border funding. Romania and Bulgaria can avail of 260 million euro; also, we have a joint project with Serbia which amounts to 34 million euro. A great part of these funds are targeted at tourism”, said Ms. Angelkova.
Mr. Rifai also met with the Mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova, and prominent members of the Bulgarian private sector.