We support PM Modi’s efforts to boost tourism in India, promote yoga: UNWTO secretary-general

Panaji, Jun 21 (PTI) The UNWTO supports Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to promote tourism in India, a country rich in culture with a “huge potential” to attract more investment in the sector, a top official of the global organisation said in Goa.

World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili spoke to PTI on the eve of the G20 Tourism Ministerial Meeting and the International Day of Yoga and expressed his delight over the coincidence.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations with a mandate to promote responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

G20 delegates from several countries on Wednesday performed yoga ‘asanas’ on the premises of the Raj Bhavan in Goa to mark the day.

Goa Governor PS Shreedharan Pillai, Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy and Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt joined the delegates in performing the ‘asanas’, hours before the scheduled crucial ministerial meeting here.

According to the schedule for the opening session of the afternoon meeting, a video message from Modi will be screened.

The two-day fourth G20 Tourism Working Group Meeting, which ended on Tuesday, was attended by about 130 delegates, with officials saying that a Goa Roadmap and Action Plan is “nearly ready”.

The finalised roadmap is to be endorsed after the end of the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Thursday.

“First of all, congratulations to India for this very successful meeting. The G20 Tourism Ministerial Meeting in Goa, and Goa is a main tourist destination, and we are very happy to be invited,” Pololikashvili told PTI in an interview on Tuesday night.

It’s a coincidence that Wednesday is the International Day of Yoga for G20 delegates who are participating in this meeting, he said.

“When I was a child, a small boy, India was associated with elephants, yoga, culture, Buddhism, and tomorrow (Wednesday), it’s a big day, because several years ago the UN (United Nations) approved a resolution, to approve June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. We are very happy,” the official said.

The World Tourism Organization secretary-general added that “India has a huge potential” to attract more investment, do more things, promote more tourism because “India is one of the richest countries in the world with its cultural assets, and it means that tourism is here”.

He said he didn’t have any doubt that India will be “one of the biggest, strongest, future leaders in the world, in the next 20-30 years” where tourism will come.

On Modi’s visit to the US where he will lead a yoga session at the United Nations’ Secretariat, the official said, “We support and appreciate, his support to the tourism sector.”

“He is one of the leaders who gives top priority to the country to promote tourism, and tomorrow (Wednesday) is a big day, very touristic and very special day for India and the world, all communities for tourism,” he added.

Pololikashvili said it is a coincidence that Modi will be supporting India in the US while ministers of the G20 countries are in India supporting its tourism.

“We are very happy for this coincidence and we wish him (Modi) all the best… Yoga is another kind of promotion of the country, like sports and tourism, and we are taking about… lot of gastronomy tourism, yoga is part of the culture, and wonderful, and a very unique country in the world,” he said.

The draft resolution establishing the International Day of Yoga was proposed by India and endorsed by a record 175 member states.

The proposal was first introduced by Modi and accepted in 2014.

In a video message on the International Day of Yoga on Wednesday, Modi said India has always nurtured traditions that unite, adopt and embrace, and made a fervent appeal to eliminate contradictions, hurdles and resistances through yoga.

He added that Indians have welcomed new ideas, conserved them and celebrated the country’s rich diversity.

Asked about the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between India and the UNWTO on the sidelines of the G20 Tourism Working Group meeting here, Pololikashvili said many projects can be done and “we are going to do them with the Indian government”.

The MoU will see both parties collaborate on key programmatic areas related to tourism market intelligence, tourism, rural development, tourism investment, education and innovation, the Union Tourism Ministry said on Tuesday.

“Again, its an honour to be a small part of the big story, which we are writing here,” he said.

Under India’s G20 tourism track, the the Tourism Working Group is working on five inter-connected priority areas — green tourism, digitisation, skills, tourism MSMEs and destination.

These priorities are key building blocks for accelerating the transition of the tourism sector and achieve the targets for 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sustainable development is the number one priority for the UNWTO, and “we are very happy to start plastic intiative from here in Goa,” the top official of the United Nations’ body said.

“We are happy that India is a very strong partner of the UNWTO, starting from the foundation of our organisation, and this is history. And, we are here to support SDGs which are directly linked to tourism, and I am sure tomorrow’s (Wednesday) meeting will be more or less directed to the 17 SDGs which we want to promote, with our members, G20 ministers and countries,” Pololikashvili said.