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Why tourism deserves our dedication

A story told by Taleb Rifai Madrid, Spain

Mr. Rifai (°49) was head of the UNWTO from 2010 untill 2017. Taleb Rifai will hand on the torch. Talking to him is like landing in a roller-coaster of stories and wisdom. Mr. Rifai kindly accepted the moral sponsorship of 'Connect Your Story'.


Halong Bay, Vietnam. Sharp mountains jutting out of a breath-taking emerald sea. The Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, fondly remembers his tour, bobbing around the bay in a little wooden boat. It is not just because of the place, which is considered one of the most beautiful on earth. He heard a story that day on the water, which he still keeps telling. A touching story explaining why the head of the UNWTO hopes that leaders of nations will develop tourism. "Tourism is not just a mega industry. Tourism can change lives".



"Since that day in the Halong Bay, I see the story behind each human. We should never see anyone as our employee. We are all humans. We all have a story". - Taleb Rifai


This is the story of Halong Bay:

"We boarded a wooden boat.
The steerswoman took us out on the water.
I asked her if she was from the village.
She told me about her life.
How she had worked in the rice fields.
Hard work, for a meagre wage.

She had two boys and a girl.
She knew what it meant to be poor.

And then the government launched a project.
Two hundred small boats were built.
She seized the opportunity to exploit one of them.
Showing tourists around paradise.

Since that day her life has changed, she said.
Her family has a roof over their head.
Her children are in university.

Business is good. Plenty of work.
Her neighbour joined to help.
The two women share the profit.

I asked her if she enjoyed her work.
She looked at me. Laughed. And said:
Of course. I love people. Just like you".

Tourism opens up our society

The tourism boom in Vietnam made a big change in the life of this very determined mother. Through the eyes of her guests, she rediscovered the beauty and traditions of her country. Every day, she meets people who are different than her. Mr. Rifai: "That is why tourism is my passion. I hope government leaders will realise that tourism deserves their commitment. Tourism is more than an industry. It opens up our society to differences, which makes us all more human".


Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen