unwto colombia2015President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos opened the 21st UNWTO General Assembly which welcomes more than 900 delegates from 120 countries, including over 70 Ministers and Secretaries of State for Tourism. In his opening speech, President Santos emphasized Colombia’s vast tourism offer and the country’s commitment to share it with the world in a sustainable manner.

President Santos said, “We give tremendous importance to tourism in our development plans and in our economy. In Colombia, tourism now is our second largest source of foreign exchange, surpassed only by oil. Indeed, with falling prices on oil and coal, we are looking to replace the income from these smokestack industries with more environmentally friendly ones, such as tourism”.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, praised Colombia’s commitment to tourism as well as the country’s remarkable transformation into one of the America´s fastest growing tourism destinations, Mr. Rifai underscored how tourism, alongside it’s economic weight, also has the power to generate significant social benefits: “Only those that understand the connection between tourism and peace can appreciate the real value of travel and tourism”, said Mr. Rifai.

Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) highlighted the close relationship between tourism and air transport: “In 2014, some 53% of tourists travel by air to reach their international destinations. We must recognize the important fact that divergent policies for air transport and tourism ultimately hinder economic development”.