Former US President Barack Obama has urged travel industry leaders to be “concrete about what governments can do to help tourism”.
Addressing the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) global summit in Seville, Obama said: “Growing up in Hawaii, I was probably mindful of the economic impact of tourism.
“Making the case for the economic benefits of tourism is the way to get politicians’ attention and being concrete about what governments can do to help or to hurt tourism.
“Having a clear agenda is important. With all the things that governments have on their plate, narrow it down and make it simple.
“The more specific and clear the industry is about a problem, the more likely it is to be solved.”
Obama is viewed by global travel leaders as the most tourism-friendly leader of a major economy they have seen.
As president, he said: “I made a point of visiting cultural sites. It got me into trouble. The media would report ‘Obama is on vacation’.”
Referring to the “destabilisation of politics”, Obama said: “You watch the debate on Brexit and compromise is viewed as a betrayal.”
He argued: “We’re going through change that in previous times would take generations. The disruption makes people feel insecure. Some of it is concrete. Some of it is about identity, not just a reaction to economic changes but a reaction to people feeling their status eroded.
“But if we try to reassert hard, fixed borders when technology and information are borderless, we will not only fail but see greater conflict.”
The former US president said: “One of the benefits of travel is to remind people of global diversity and the differences between us. But travel also reminds us of what we share, of what we see of ourselves in each other.”
However, he noted: “For young women, travel poses specific issues around safety and security and the attitude of men.
“If you are part of a destination where young women feel uncomfortable when they travel, you may lose their money. They will not put up with that stuff.”
Obama told the summit: “I’m worried about destabilisation of the environment. Climate change is demonstrable and it’s happening now.
“Some places we most want to visit are at risk. Some of the most spectacular parts of our civilisation are on parts of the coast that won’t survive an extra four feet of ocean.”
Asked what he is most proud of in his time in office, Obama said: “People overlook the fact that we helped save the world economy [in 2008]. We prevented a Great Depression.
“We didn’t fix everything, but we averted disaster. Your industry would not have grown without that.”
He added: “I’m very proud of providing health care in the US to people who didn’t have it. I’m proud of the Paris Accord [on climate change] even though the US is not a signatory to it. Climate change will be the defining issue of our time even if people don’t think it is.
“Michelle and I are proud of the fact that we came out intact. We had no scandals. We maintained a high level of integrity. We hired people for the right reasons.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but I never woke up and thought I had compromised my principles or broken faith with the people who sent me to office.”
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