Seville is the agora of world tourism on April 3 and 4, 2019 with the celebration of the 19th Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The Palace of Exhibitions and Congresses (Fibes) is the chosen place to host the largest annual event of the only international and private organization that brings together the leaders of the global travel and tourism industry. Around 100 top executives of companies and public officials from the five continents make up the list of speakers and moderators of conferences, panels and round tables of the WTTC, which has more than 1,000 people registered, all in charge of companies. The main speaker will be former president of the United States Barack Obama.

The annual WTTC summit is an important event in the calendar of travel and tourism. Numerous personalities of the public and private sector meet to discuss the situation and perspectives of international tourism, and analyze the possibilities of investment and alliances in physical destinations, in the digital universe, … It is, therefore, a magnificent display for positioning Seville internationally and to attract new investments. The main theme of this year will revolve around global changes in the industry and tourist flows, a theme that the WTTC organization has chosen to link its appointment with the commemoration of the V Centennial of the first circumnavigation of the Earth by Fernando de Magallanes and Juan Sebastián Elcano, which was the first trip with global experience.

Attendees at the WTTC summit held in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 2018

The importance of tourism as an economic and employment engine

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) was formed in 1991 by a group of travel and tourism CEOs who felt that the sector’s contribution to economies and job creation was not being recognised. Its objectives were to use empirical evidence to promote awareness of travel and tourism’s economic contribution; to expand markets in harmony with the environment; and to reduce barriers to growth.

WTTC is the only global body that brings together all major players in the travels and tourism sector (airlines, hotels, cruise, car rental, travel agencies, tour operators, and technology), enabling them to speak with one voice to governments and international bodies. With chief executives of over 140 of the world’s leading travel and tourism companies as its members, WTTC works to raise awareness of tourism as one of the world’s largest sectors, supporting 284 million jobs and generating 9.8% of global GDP.

Based in London (England), its current CEO is the Mexican Gloria Guevara Manzo. In addition to the global summits that they organize annually in the month of April, another of the agency’s activities is conducting research jointly with Oxford Economics on the economic and social impact of the travel and tourism industry. These are used by important publications such as Forbes and Bloomberg News. Also, every year, and within the framework of the summit, the WTTC delivers the prestigious ‘Tourism for Tomorrow’ awards that recognize the best sustainable tourism projects worldwide. To this edition, 175 candidatures from 20 countries have been submitted.

Speakers of the highest level of the world tourism sector

Antonio Muñoz, Tourism delegate of the Seville City Council; Susana Ibáñez, ex-secretary general of Tourism of the Junta de Andalucía; and Pablo García-Manzano, undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism of Spain, during the 2018 WTTC summit in Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Since the WTTC summit was held in Madrid in 2015, it was not returning to Europe. The designation of Seville as host of the 19th edition was announced last year at the annual meeting of the organization that took place in Buenos Aires (Argentina). The months of work and contacts by the Seville City Council, Junta de Andalucía and the Central Government, together with the advice of the leading Sevillian tourist bus company City Sightseeing, part of the WTTC, paid off: «It is not another summit that we bring to Seville. It is the quintessential summit of the world tourism industry. And it can not be seen only from the mere tourist point of view, but also at the level of attracting investments and growth of other economic sectors for the city and the whole of Andalusia», declared Antonio Muñoz, delegate of Habitat Urbano, Cultura y Tourism of the Seville City Council, after knowing that it had been chosen to host the annual appointment of the WTTC in 2019.

Thus, on April 3 and 4, 2019, the almost 100 world tourism leaders that make up the list of speakers, and another 600 delegates from five continents, will participate in a series of parallel meetings of international political authorities of first level. While Barack Obama is the most renowned personality, the WTTC summit in Seville will be full of key personalities within the global tourism industry. Among the confirmed are the top executives of hotel chains, payment media companies, media, airlines, tour operators, luxury tourism companies, investment funds, travel agencies, technology companies, consultants and market companies, and institutes and universities.

The summit begins on Wednesday, April 3, and will be inaugurated by Christopher J. Nassetta, president of Hilton hotels; Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization; Pedro Sánchez, President of the Government of Spain; Juan Manuel Moreno, president of the Junta de Andalucía; and Juan Espadas, Mayor of Seville. Gloria Guevara, CEO of the WTTC, will give the opening speech.

Next, the first round table of the summit will be held under the title ‘The future is …’, in which the speakers will give their perspectives on the future of telecommunications, technology, sustainability, and the challenges and opportunities for the travel and tourism sector as a force of change. José María Álvarez-Pallete López, CEO of Telefónica; Michael Froman, Vice Chairman of Mastercard; and Gary Knell, Chairman of National Geographic. They will be followed by the interventions of Mark Okerstrom, President and CEO of Expedia, and Keith Barr, CEO of the IHG hotel chain.

After lunch, the conference of former US President Barack Obama will take place. Its choice as main speaker at the summit is not casual. The director of the WTTC, Gloria Guevara, said that «during his time in office he embodied the notion that travel and tourism is a driver of economic growth and creator of jobs.» It is worth remembering that in 2016 the former president of the United States was planning to visit Seville as part of a trip to Spain. However, a few hours before arriving in the city, he decided to suspend the visit and return to his country as a result of the attacks in Dallas (Texas) in which five police officers were killed.

It will be followed by a round table about the behavior of consumers of tomorrow, which will be attended by Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Age Wave, and Zak Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Young China Group. The moderator will be Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso.

The last activity of the day will revolve around whether the cities are prepared for the tourism of the future. Some of the panelists of this round table will be Gabriel Escarrer Jaume, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Meliá Hotels; Juan Espadas, mayor of Seville; Lindsay Nelson, president of TripAdvisor’s Core Experience; Helal Saeed Khalfan Al Marri, Director General of Tourism and Commerce of Dubai; and Jamie Rhee, from the Chicago Aviation Department.

The second day of the summit begins on Thursday, April 4 at 9:15 with a round table dedicated to how to connect with the new consumer and investment in sustainability. One of the speakers is Enrique Ybarra, CEO of City Sightseeing, Sevillian company that is part of the World Travel and Tourism Council and world leader in urban tourism lines with panoramic buses. From 11:30 onwards, different panels will be held on sustainability, diversity, inclusion, cybersecurity, innovation, among others.

The Sevillian architecture studio Cruz y Ortiz Arquitectos is designing the compact passenger station prototype for ultra-fast Hyperloop trains.

After lunch, the last two round tables of the summit will be held. The first one will be held by the title ‘The future of employment in the era of automation’, and will feature interventions, among others, Hiromi Tagawa, president of JTB Corporation (the largest travel agency in Japan), and Joan Vila, CEO of Hotelbeds. The second will be dedicated to high-speed transportation, and the limits of innovation and disruption. One of the speakers will be Dirk Alhborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. It should be recalled that the US company has signed a protocol for the sheds that Adif has in the core of Bobadilla (Antequera, Malaga) to house a development and testing center for the Hyperloop, the new transport system through vacuum tubes to very high speed. Likewise, the Seville architecture studio Cruz y Ortiz Arquitectos has designed the compact passenger station prototype for ultrafast trains of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, in the experimental stage.

City Sightseeing, a Sevillian company leader in panoramic buses

Based in Seville and London, City Sightseeing is one of the international leaders in the sector of panoramic tour buses with urban routes. It is part of the World Travel and Tourism Council, and its advisory work to the City of Seville, the Junta de Andalucía and the Central Government contributed to Seville being designated as host of the summit. It currently has a presence in more than a hundred cities on five continents with the Sightseeing Worldwide brand.

View of a bus from City Sighseeing company in Dubai (United Arab Emirates)

The business was founded by Enrique Ybarra Valdenebro, an entrepreneur who, after completing his studies in the United States, returned to Seville where he started a tour bus business during Expo 92 with vehicles similar to San Francisco streetcars, called Compañía Hispalense de Travías. After a hesitant start, in 1997 he reached an agreement with Ensignbus, a benchmark company in the sector in London, and in 1999 he created the trademark City Sightseeing. After verifying that this business model did not exist internationally, he created his first service in the city of Seville with four second-hand London buses. The next city where it was launched was in Sydney with a view to the 2000 Olimpic Games. Through the franchise model, the company was first expanded through Spain and soon moved to Europe, America and the Middle East. Currently, City Sightseeing is present in almost 100 cities around the world.