Commemorates 40th Anniversary of World Heritage Convention with UNESCO Director General Bokova
PHILADELPHIA- During a town hall with local tourism and business leaders in Philadelphia, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar emphasized the importance of international tourism to economic growth and job creation. The visit coincided with the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention, an international treaty that seeks to recognize and protect the world's most significant places, such as Independence Hall, for future generations.
Today's visit comes as part of the Obama administration's initiative - launched in January - to create a new national tourism strategy focused on creating jobs by becoming even more welcoming to guests from here at home and from all over the globe. As part of this initiative, Secretary Salazar and Secretary of Commerce John Bryson are working to develop recommendations for a National Travel and Tourism Strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States with a particular focus on strategies for increasing tourism by promoting visits to our national treasures, such as Independence Hall.
"As home to just one of 21 World Heritage Sites in the United States, Independence National Historical Park has the potential to draw visitors from around the world to Philadelphia, stimulating economic growth and creating jobs in local communities," Salazar said. "It is the reason President Obama directed his administration to create a new national tourism strategy focused on becoming even more welcoming to guests from here at home and from all over the globe."
Joined by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis, U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, Independence National Historical Park Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife & Parks Rachel Jacobson, Salazar and officials discussed with attendees the different avenues in which to better promote and attract tourists to the area. As part of the discussion, a three-minute film (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UySOekRPNfM) was presented by the National Park Service highlighting World Heritage sites in the United States and around the world.
"The preservation and conservation of natural and cultural heritage are accelerators for sustainable development," said UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. "We have countless stories about how the protection of cultural landscapes, monuments or ecosystems sustain livelihoods while contributing at the same time to economic development through income and jobs for the local population derived from tourism. With its long-lasting experience, global vision and professional network, UNESCO has a fundamental contribution to make in helping communities to strike the right balance between local preservation and sustainable cultural tourism."
"President Obama and Secretary Salazar are to be commended for their continuing efforts to preserve our nation's great cultural and natural resources," said Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA-02). "Independence Park is where we showcase our struggle for independence and freedom. Today's initiative will further display this American success story for international visitors while benefiting our region's economic growth."
Independence National Historical Park attracts 3.7 million visitors a year who spend $146 million dollars and support more than 2,100 jobs, but only 7 percent of the visitors are from abroad. Foreign visitors on average stay longer and spend more money than domestic visitors.
"Independence National Historical Park is well placed to host additional foreign travelers given our location in Philadelphia, a major international tourist destination," added Superintendent MacLeod.
In 2010, nearly 60 million international visitors pumped more than $134 billion dollars into the U.S. economy, making tourism America's number one service export.
While many Americans are not aware of World Heritage Sites, people in foreign countries are and often make their travel and vacation plans around visits to them. In effort to raise visibility and encourage visitation by Americans, the National Park Service, in partnership with the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO and HISTORY channel, launched a national YouTube video challenge asking people to submit their thoughts on why U.S. World Heritage sites are important to the world. Selected video submissions will air on HISTORY channel in early 2013.
"Tourism can be an enormous economic engine, creating more jobs in local businesses, hotels and resorts, car rental companies, airlines and restaurants," said NPS Director Jarvis. "We need to do a better job of inviting people to visit places like Independence Hall that may not be as well known to foreigners as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone."
At the urging of the United States, the World Heritage Convention was established in 1972 and now provides international recognition to nearly 1,000 sites around the world for their natural or cultural significance. Other World Heritage Sites in the United States include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, the Everglades, and the Statue of Liberty.
In January, President Obama signed an Executive Order and announced new initiatives to significantly increase travel and tourism in the United States. The U.S. tourism and travel industry is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment, representing 2.7% of GDP and 7.5 million jobs in 2010 - with international travel to the United States supporting 1.2 million jobs alone. The travel and tourism industry projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the U.S. increased its share of the international travel market. The Obama administration is working to take important steps to bolster job creation through a range of steps to better promote the United States as a tourism destination and improve secure visa processing. This is part of a series of executive actions the President has announced to put Americans back to work and strengthen the U.S. economy.