The UN’s World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has launched a new technology forum designed to raise the sector’s digital profile.

‘Tourism Tech Adventure: Big Data Solutions’, has been created to bring together the ‘ecosystem’ of tourism innovation and raising the sector’s role in the worldwide digital agenda.

The new focus was announced following the 109th session of the UNWTO Executive Council where member countries met in Bahrain this week as the organisation listed its priorities for 2019.

A number of Member States expressed ‘great support’ for UNWTO’s efforts to prioritize tourism in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The executive management team was also praised for creating a cleaner structure more equipped to effectively respond to Members’ requests, as well as the clear management priorities and sharp focus placed on UNWTO’s work areas of education and digital transformation.

Ten months into the new mandate, UNWTO was able to communicate showing a financial surplus. At this point in the year, the Organization has received higher contributions than in the last three years and the highest percentage of budgetary income since 2014, with expenditure also on target.

UNWTO’s Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili gave thanks to Bahrain, the host country for the proceedings. “Being hosted in Bahrain is very relevant. Here you can see how innovation and being a smart destination can be positioned high on the political and economic agenda, and how supporting tourism education and capacity building is a sound investment”, he said.

On the margins of the Council UNWTO held a high-level workshop on data-driven tourism management. The Organization has introduced a new forum, ‘Tourism Tech Adventure: Big Data Solutions’, where panellists debated how open data platforms are revolutionizing tourism, along with how to stimulate venture capital and greater gender equality in tourism and technology.

‘Tourism Tech Adventure: Big Data Solutions’ will also welcome another round of pitches for finalists of the 1st UNWTO Tourism Startup Competition in Collaboration with Globalia, launched in June 2018 to identify companies that can foster the sector’s digital transformation. The finalists’ projects – which focus on the future of travel, the tourism experience, environmental impact and community development – will be presented at the next International Tourism Fair of Madrid (Fitur) in January 2019.

The forum serves as a follow-up to the official World Tourism Day 2018 celebrations on 27 September in Budapest, Hungary, under the theme of ‘Tourism and the Digital Transformation’, and a precursor to the upcoming UNWTO and World Travel Market ministerial summit in London, UK (6 November) on investment in tourism technology. All are part of UNWTO’s ongoing strategy to give tourism its deserved prominence on the digital agenda. Secretary-General Pololikashvili signed cooperation agreements during the Executive Council with the tourism authorities of Argentina and Portugal to strengthen UNWTO’s cooperation agenda on innovation in tourism.

Mr. Pololikashvili announced during the Council that UNWTO governing bodies’ meetings will have a specific overarching thematic focus each year. After 2018’s focus on digital transformation, 2019 will look at employment and education in line with the theme of World Tourism Day 2019: ‘Tourism and Jobs: a better future for all’.