Industry leaders have paid tribute to former United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary General, and Senator of the Mediterranean Tourism Foundation Dr Taleb Rifai, as a new resilience centre opens in his name in Jordan.
The Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) opened its third location, situated at the Middle East University in Amman, this evening.
Addressing the audience, Dr Rifai said: “I was simply doing my job – it is the job of every one of us to leave the world in a better place than how we find it.
“I have travelled the world, and when we travel, we have the power to change the world.
“I travelled the world, and I am a better man – tourism is very important, but it remains undervalued.
“I do not deserve this honour, I really do not, but I am happy to accept it on behalf of everybody in the tourism sector around the world.”
Earlier this month, the GTRCMC successfully launched the Global Tourism Resilience Day during an event at Expo 2020 in Dubai as part of a global campaign to boost the recovery capacity of the sector.
Speaking this evening at the dedication ceremony, Jordan minister of tourism, Nayef Himiedi Al-Fayez, said the facility would allow the sector to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
He explained: “The establishment of this centre is a great honour for Jordan.
“Tourism contributes around 15 per cent of our GDP – but the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has cost us around 76 per cent of the sector.
“We were able to work with different teams to bring tourism gradually back to where it is today.
“However, the market is still 55 per cent down on 2019 – and that means we have a long way to go in order to overcome the crisis we went through.”
He added: “Crises are not new to us here in the Middle East, and the establishment of this centre and its research programme will allow us to overcome them in the future as quickly as possible.
“We are used to recovery, but we need to be quicker, reducing damage, and this institution will allow us to do that.
“I have no doubt that this centre will be of great use to us here in Jordan, as well as to our neighbours in the region.
“We are all excited about the possibility of this centre, it will be another feature of this distinguished university.
“I thank Taleb Rifai for all he has done for Jordan, both in the country, and in the international arena – his great accomplishments are greatly appreciated.”
The new Global Tourism Resilience & Disaster Management Centre at the Middle East University will be referred to as the Taleb Rifai Centre.
It will operate under the leadership of professor Salam Almahadin, president of the university.
Almahadin enthused: “This centre comes on the heels of a global pandemic which has forced us to reassess how we respond to crisis.
“Our efforts are critical to the work of recovery.
“No university is more suited to the task; Middle East University is no stranger to international collaboration, we are the only university in Jordan which affords the opportunity to study in the UK, for example.
“The centre will maintain an international view; we pride ourselves on the highest standards of education.
“This facility will increase our academic offering – and allow us to seek funding to carry out research on tourism resilience, creating guidelines and toolkits for crisis management.”
The Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre, headquartered in Jamaica at the University of the West Indies (Mona campus), was the first academic resource centre dedicated to addressing crises and resilience for the travel industry.
The body assists destinations in preparedness, management and recovery from disruptions and/or crises that impact tourism and threaten economies and livelihoods globally.
Since its inception in 2018, satellite centres have been launched in Kenya and now Jordan.
Others are in the process of development in Canada, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Spain, Greece and Ghana.
Jamaica minister of tourism and Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre co-founder, Edmund Bartlett, added: “We are seeking a choreographed path in dealing with catastrophe.
“I am happy to welcome Jordan to the network of the Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre and I look forward to the work we can do together.
“We are striving to recover from the pandemic, but there is still a great amount of work to be done – we are still 47 per cent behind visitor numbers seen in 2019.”
He added: “This evening belongs to Taleb Rifai – and I believe he was the most important visionary of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.
“His work across the world is legendary – and, perhaps, he will tell you his greatest success was to mainstream tourism across the world.
“He, along with the World Travel & Tourism Council, created the ‘golden book,’ taken around the world, signed by global leaders, endorsing the importance of the tourism sector.
“To dedicate this centre to this great man, is not just a thought, not just an expression, but a vindication of a man who has given so much of his life to build an industry.”
The GTRCMC model works in partnership with an outstanding institution of higher learning, namely a well-situated university with departments covering management, research, innovation, civics, policy creation and international development.
Also at the launch this evening, Kenya minister of tourism, Najib Balala, said: “We will bounce back, but the centre here in Jordan, which joins the second centre in Kenya, will allow us to overcome the challenges and learn the lessons.
“When we make profits, we forget about saving, it is important we develop a resilience fund, to help us overcome challenges as they arise.
“Today we need leadership, and sometimes we do not see leadership – Taleb Rifai has offered leadership and this centre reflects that.”
From the private sector, Samer Majali, chief executive of Royal Jordanian, said the centre would allow the Middle East to combat negative perceptions of the region.
He added: “The global perception of the Middle East is an ongoing battle we have to continue to flight.
“The perception if Islam is not good, while the perception of the Arab people is something we also have to fight for.
“Our tourism product is a way to fight this battle, medical tourism, religious tourism and antiquities – and the message here has to be deployed much more effectively
“This centre will help us to focus on one of the biggest problems we gave – and I hope the centre achieves the funding and support it requires in order to do its job.
“I am proud it is in Jordan, and I am proud it is at this growing university.”