English Corner

Martin Barth, CEO World Tourism Forum Lucerne. Image: Sandra Blaser Photography

«When talking about the future of the tourism industry, we need the next generation»

Von Gregor Waser

The World Tourism Forum Lucerne will be held for the fifth time in central Switzerland on 4 and 5 May 2017. In the following Travelnews interview, Forum CEO Martin Barth highlights the key topics, reveals some of the top names taking part – and also discusses the planned international expansion of the Forum.

Mr Barth, the next World Tourism Forum Lucerne takes place in three months' time. What will be the main focus of this year’s event?

Martin Barth: The main theme will be "Stay relevant in uncertain times!" We want to focus on how we as organizations, enterprises, destinations or even as countries can face the fast-changing challenges confronting the tourism sector. In particular we'll discuss how these changes will affect the sustainable development of our industry, the promotion of next generation management, and the enhancement of innovation. Our Forum is active in many tourism-related aspects, but it’s these three aspects which occupy our special attention. At the same time it is essential in today's world to remain open to new dynamics and directions so that we can cope with the unexpected at short notice.

How difficult is it for you to ensure participation in the Forum of top tourism industry names?

It's to our advantage internationally of course when the Forum's attracts increasing renown. Many potential participants now approach us directly. Right from the start in 2009 it was our declared aim not to develop the Forum as a sales platform, but to concentrate on attracting participation at a more strategic level – for example tourism ministers, CEOs, investors and academics. Not forgetting, of course, the next generation of tourism industry talents. When talking about the future of the industry, we need the next generation.

How has the WTFL developed since its founding eight years ago?

Ever since our first Forum in Lucerne (held at the Swiss Museum of Transport) we have concentrated on creating a platform targeted at the political and business sectors. Within the tourism industry itself we also strive to ensure that all sectors are sitting around the table. In other words, aviation, shipping, destinations, hotels, tour operating and so on. Our credo is «bridging the silo mentality» – in other words, breaking down the barriers.

Are any changes planned for the Forum?

When we started here in Switzerland, the idea was for a two-year cycle – 2009, 11, 13, 15 and 17. Now we have decided to change to an annual Forum and also, as a world event, to establish a presence abroad. This idea originated in 2013 when representatives from China approached us and expressed interest in hosting the WTFL in their country. This expansion requires a new organizational structure, to the extent that the World Tourism Forum Lucerne is now registered as a limited company. The first WTFL in China will take place in 2018. Currently we are finalizing all the details.

«We strive to ensure that all sectors are sitting around the table – in other words, aviation, shipping, destinations, hotels, tour operating and so on. Our credo is "bridging the silo mentality»

What persuaded you to take this ambitious step?

We want to create for our sponsors, partners and participants new impetus and incentives. With effect from 2018 the Forum will be held in even years in China. In uneven years it will remain in Lucerne. In addition, the Forum will be complemented by selective activities in other countries. This has already been the case in São Paulo, Baku and Peking. Other countries too – Australia, Canada, Indonesia, India and in Africa – have indicated their interest. Since 2015 it has also been possible for a country or specific destination to participate in the Forum as guest country. But the focus will remain on young talents, Innovation und sustainable development.

Is anything new planned for 2017?

We're launching a Start-Up Innovation Camp. Start-ups from any country can register with us up until the end of February, after which we will compile a shortlist. The best will then be invited to Lucerne. The aim is to support these start-ups, to bring them into contact with CEOs and to accumulate new input. In addition, we will increasingly introduce Forum elements which encourage participant exchange. And finally we will let other industries have their say. We call it «the secret of learning from other industries.» 

Your Forum is renowned among tourism industry insiders for its topical studies. What topics are planned for this year?

We'll be compiling three studies. The first will deal with destinations which are under pressure – for example, maintaining quality while coping with mass tourism. The second study will focus on how the aviation sector can be attractive for future talents. And the third study will concentrate on security.

Who will be among the most important guests and speakers this year?

One of the most interesting will certainly be Simon Anholt, internationally acclaimed branding expert and known for his plain speaking. The list of prominent participants is long and also includes Taleb Rifai (UNWTO), Puneet Chhatwal (Deutsche Hospitality), Jason Fox (The Cleverness), Alexandre de Juniac (IATA), Ann Sherry (Carnival Cruise) and other top names.