While tourism represents one of the developing countries' best economic growth opportunities, the latter face numerous challenges including high air transport prices and lack of infrastructure, said participants to the WTO Symposium on Tourism Services.
The Symposium took place at the World Trade Organization on 22 and 23 February 2001 and hosted presentations by government tourism officials, academics, WTO Secretariat and other governmental organizations involved in tourism. Representatives from the tourism industry in Cuba, Jamaica, the Philippines and Thailand were also invited to share their national experiences.
The Symposium was organized by the WTO Secretariat and aimed to evaluate current developments in international tourism that may be of relevance to the GATS negotiations, and particularly to the proposal by the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Honduras for a special GATS annex on tourism services. The Dominican Republic initiated the idea of the Symposium when it suggested in May 2000 to look, in the presence of the private sector, at how to create a competitive environment favouring the growth of tourism.
Tourism is currently the most open service sector: more than 100 WTO Members have commitments in tourism under the GATS, said the WTO Secretariat.
However, presentations by development agencies and others showed that tourism is highly dependent on other services such as air and road transport, financial services and health services. In the poorest countries, the lack of such infrastructure constrain the development of tourism services.
Speakers raised a number of problems related to tourism in developing countries including the high air transport fares to developing country destinations — which were said to be due partly to low air traffic density but also to aviation protectionism — and anti-competitive practices of tour operators.
Presentations also looked at the issue of electronic commerce in tourism services. While the possibility of on-line holiday booking represents a new opportunity for tourism providers, developing countries, which have only limited access to the internet, are unable to fully exploit this medium.