is essential for the worlds economy. A substantial portion
of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment, especially in developing
countries, is related to tourism. The United Nations (UN) estimates
that globally, international arrivals amounted to more than 700
million in 2001. Protected areas, such as national parks and wilderness
areas, now cover more than 10 percent of the earths surface
and play a vital and increasing role in tourism. A key challenge
is the path to sustainability; specifically, how protected areas
can be managed effectively for tourism while ensuring their natural
valuesthe assets that attract touristsare protected
for future generations.
The UN has designated the year 2002 as the International Year of
Ecotourism (IYE). Its focus on this issue is in recognition of ecotourisms
potential as a development tool that can advance the three basic
goals of its Convention on Biological Diversity:
- conserve biological (and cultural) diversity;
- promote the sustainable use of biodiversity by generating income,
jobs and business opportunities in ecotourism and related business
- share the benefits of ecotourism developments equitably with local
communities and indigenous people.
The two principal organizations responsible for IYE are the World
Tourism Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP). Their principal goals are to open a wide review on the potential
contribution of ecotourism to sustainable development and to exchange
information on good practice techniques and lessons learned in the
sustainable planning, development, management and marketing of ecotourism.
Tourism is a good business4.4 percent of the worlds
GDP flows directly from tourismover 200 million people are
employed in the tourism industry, commented Klaus Toepfer,
executive director of UNEP, in his opening remarks at the recent
World Ecotourism Summit in Quebec, Canada. Together, we should
strive to harness this potential for the benefit of people and the
environment, all over the world. Ecotourism is a set of principles
that can, and should, be applied to all forms of tourism, and lessons
learned can be shared with mainstream tourism.
Under the aegis of the IYE, a number of organizations are discussing
concerns and expectations, including NGOs fearful that it could
lead to the promotion of unregulated ecotourism and to misconceived
and inflationary mass tourism in ecologically sensitive areas.
UNEP admits that some socially and environmentally sensitive areas
are under pressure from excessive tourism visitationtraditional
tourism tends to focus on some very limited destinations. But it
also says that it may be simplistic to be concerned only about the
risk of global over-visitation through the IYEs activities.
For example, more than 90 percent of potential ecotourism sites,
such as the 160-plus natural World Heritage Sites, are used well
under their visitor carrying capacity. Many of the negative consequences
of current visitation are as much due to inefficient management
of visitation, inadequate policies for ensuring local tourism benefits
and lack of capacity building for local decision-makers and community
representatives, as to sometimes excessive numbers of tourists.
Improved visitor management policies and practices in these and
other sites could, in fact, be a key factor to ensure long-term
benefits for host communities and conservation of natural resources.
UNEP hopes that the IYE could help define and disseminate the proper
instruments to achieve this.
The following is a summary of specific NGO concerns and UNEP responses
Concern: The UN has designated the IYE without previous examination
of the nature of the ecotourism industry and its impacts on destinations.
The IYEs priorities and objectives have not been spelled out
clearly. To reflect these concerns, a number of NGOs suggested changing
the title to The International Year of Reviewing Ecotourism.
UNEPs response: The title
of the IYE is the result of a decision by the member states of the
United Nations General Assembly. It cannot be changed without a
decision of the General Assembly. However, the greater concern is
not being ignored. UNEP and the WTO have stated that one of the
goals of the IYE is to review the role of ecotourism. Neither UNEP
nor WTO supports the promotion of ecotourism without a thorough
and inclusive process of reviewing its benefits and costs to all
stakeholdersand its ongoing work is aimed at ensuring this.
Concern: Southern NGOs have not been given sufficient opportunities
at UN-planned activities to express their concerns. They have reservations
about the seriousness of tourism corporations and large NGOs
social and environmental policies. Furthermore, there has not been
a clear strategy of involving indigenous peoples, southern organizations
and communities in the IYE preparatory process.
UNEPs response: UNEP believes
that the participation of local communities and indigenous peoples
is an essential contribution to the Ecotourism Summit and its follow-up.
In order to promote environmental conservation and sustainable development
of host populations, practical guidelines for ecotourism need to
result from equitable negotiations between the local communities,
indigenous peoples, governments, industry players and environmental
specialists. UNEP and WTO are working with many partners on publications,
regional and stakeholder-specific meetings and awareness campaigns
to contribute to the IYE. UNEP distributed an agenda for the IYE
to help NGOs, governments and academia to contribute to IYE activities.
It included suggestions for organizations to participate in the
IYE and to develop their own program of action. The agenda provided
information on focal points in each region of the world for geographical
coordination of activities.
Concern: Promotion of nature-based tourism as a lucrative
niche market could result in exploitation by transnational corporations,
and initiatives centered on local people may be squeezed out or
marginalized. If the IYE is used only as a promotional tool, small-scale
efforts for community-based tourism may be overwhelmed by the powerful
interests of big business.
UNEPs Response: It is
necessary to investigate which factors determine the economic success
of small-scale, community-based ecotourism. Recent research from
the International Ecotourism Society indicates that only one third
of more than 150 ecolodges around the world are profitable. Almost
three-quarters of the entrepreneurs, nevertheless, are committed
to continued investment. While the triple bottom line
approach of social, economic and environmental goals may justify
this, its essential to ensure economic returns to local stakeholders
in order for ecotourism to be viable.
UNEP and WTO have highlighted additional concerns:
- land tenure, prior informed consent and control of the ecotourism
development process by host communities;
- efficiency and fairness of the current concept of protected areas
for protection of biological and cultural diversity;
- the need for additional precautions and monitoring when operating
in especially sensitive areas;
- indigenous and traditional rights for self-determination in key
areas suitable for ecotourism development.
Many of ecotourisms unique challenges are addressed in a publication
launched jointly by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the WTO
and UNEP. Entitled, Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas: Guidelines
for Planning and Management, the report builds an understanding
of protected area tourism and its management. Guidelines provide
an analytical structure, based on a wealth of practical case studies
and experience, and are aimed to help managers and policy makers
better manage tourism and protected areas.
Ensuring that tourism follows a sustainable path requires clear
leadership and enhanced partnership at all levels, particularly
between the tourism industry and relevant government and non-governmental
agencies. This book describes how this can be done, and UNEP, WTO
and IUCN feel it will be a major contribution to the International
Year of Ecotourism 2002.
For more information, visit: http://wcpa.iucn.org/theme/
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