Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/607
    29 January 2002

    INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ECOTOURISM 2002
    LAUNCHED AT HEADQUARTERS EVENT

    NEW YORK, 28 January (UN Headquarters) -- As more and more people left their beaten paths in search of new experiences, the devastating effects of natural tourism on the environment must be minimized, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said this morning, at a special event marking the launch of the International Year of Ecotourism.

    Following up a decision made by the General Assembly in 1998 to designate 2002 the International Year of Ecotourism, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) organized today’s meeting to welcome the International Year. Speakers highlighted the development possibilities of ecotourism and the resulting disturbing environmental trends of increasing tourism to unspoiled natural environments.

    Ms. Fréchette drew attention to the urgent need to make the public more aware of the effect of growing "natural tourism" on the environment. She said enormous seaside resorts had been overdeveloped, beaches and coral reefs had been harmed or even destroyed by visitors and indigenous cultures had been disrupted by the influx of foreign goods and cultural values. The key principles identified by the World Tourism Organization, the United Nations and others should guide successful management of the industry.

    Indeed, the tourist industry had a role in the sustainable fight against poverty, the Executive Director of UNEP, Klaus Toepfer, asserted. Ideally, sustainable tourism would create jobs and protect the environment, but simply applying the label "eco" or "green" to a tourist activity had not automatically meant that all was good and environmentally fair. Special care must be taken to minimize the impact tourists could have on the local population or environment.

    Francesco Frangialli, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, agreed that tourism was an instrument of poverty alleviation -- it helped lighten the burdens of developing countries and created jobs. Tourism was one of the biggest sources of international trade receipts and had generated $476 billion in revenue in 2000. Ecotourism should be seen as a standard of the tourism industry, rather than a passing fad or market niche. It was possible to reconcile economy with ecology, and the environment with development.

    The Minister of Tourism and Transport of the Seychelles said that the essence of sound ecotourism practices was to maintain tourism in a manner that was both economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable tourism was a key development option and, indeed, the revenue generated by that industry had helped lay the foundation for remarkable advances in Seychelles’ national development.

    For that most compelling reason, the Seychelles would participate actively in the activities of the International Year.

    Following the opening statements, a round table and a short question-and-answer session was convened. The Minister of Tourism of Mexico, Leticia Navarro, moderated the segment. Other participants included: President, International Ecotourism Society, Megan Epler Wood; CEO, GAP Adventures, Bruce Poon Tip; CEO and Chairman of the Board, Conservation International Foundation, Peter Seligmann; and Gambia Tourism Concern, Adama Bah.

    Closing remarks were made by the President and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission, Jim Watson.

    Background

    The UNEP organized a meeting this morning to launch the International Year of Ecotourism 2002, as decided by the General Assembly in 1998.

    Statements

    SIMONE DE COMARMOND, Minister of Tourism and Transport, Seychelles, said the International Year was aimed at further ensuring the sustainable future of the world’s largest industry. Seychelles’ remarkable achievements in the area of ecotourism and its firm commitment to keep up that economic activity in a manner that was economically viable and socially responsible was the real essence of sound ecotourism practices.

    She recalled that the General Assembly, in 1998, had adopted resolution 53/200, which had proclaimed 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism. Since then, no effort had been spared by the Commission on Sustainable Development, the UNEP, and others in ensuring the full attainment of the noble objectives enrshined in that text. Today, it was an accepted fact that sustainable tourism was a very important development option for the international community to pursue.

    In the aftermath of the 11 September tragedies, she said, those deliberations would send a clear message to the international community that the United Nations would not falter in its commitment to ensure that the tourism objectives were fulfilled for all mankind. For its part, the tourism industry sector would do its utmost to ensure not only the success of the Year, but that those issues assumed their rightful place on the agenda of the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development.

    The tourism policy of the Seychelles had striven to balance economic development with environmental sustainability, she said. The revenue generated by that industry had helped lay the foundation for remarkable advances in national and socio-economic development. For that most compelling reason, her country would participate actively in the activities planned for the Year.

    LOUISE FRECHETTE, Deputy Secretary-General, said it was urgent to make the public more aware of the effect of growing tourism on the environment and the need to promote responsible tourism. Beaches, coral reefs and other natural habitats had been harmed or even destroyed by irresponsible development and floods of visitors, and indigenous cultures had been disrupted by the influx of foreign goods and cultural values.

    She said that tourism had gained popularity worldwide, as more and more people were leaving their beaten path for new experiences. Ecotourism might well have devastating consequences if not managed properly. More than any other form of tourism, ecotourism jeopardized the very allure of the environment. The objective must be to enjoy the planet’s natural resources while preventing any negative impact.

    While each country and region had its specific characteristics, she said that it was still possible to agree on the key principles and guidelines for ecotourism development and management, as identified by the World Tourism Organization, the United Nations and other international bodies. Among those, it should be ensured that ecotourism contributed to conservation and to the sustainable development of adjoining lands and communities. Specific strategies should be created to avoid anarchic and disorderly development.

    Also, she said, the participation of local communities at all stages of an ecotourism project should be ensured, in order to minimize the negative impact that accommodation, transport facilities and any tourist-related activities might have on the natural and cultural environment. It should also be ensured that a reasonable proportion of the income generated by tourism went to local communities and into conserving the natural heritage. Also important was raising awareness that tourism could be practiced in different, more environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways.

    She reminded members that tourism-related activities made up the world's largest economic sector, contributing directly and indirectly to approximately 7 per cent of global production. That figure could be much higher in developing countries, thereby providing millions of jobs worldwide. Indeed, for many countries, particularly in the developing world, tourism was a major source of income and job creation. Today ecotourism represented a relatively small percentage of total tourism departures from developed countries, but a significant proportion of arrivals and related economic receipts in the developing world.

    Furthermore, she said, ecotourism was one of the fastest growing segments in the tourism industry, and it had a great potential for economic development, especially in remote areas where few other possibilities existed. If properly planned, developed and managed, ecotourism could help improve the living standards of local populations, while supporting the conservation of the natural ecosystems that were so necessary to sustain life on the planet. The International Year of Ecotourism offered the opportunity to share best practices and successful experiences.

    The main event of the Year would be the World Ecotourism Summit, which would be held from 19 to 22 May in Quebec City, Canada, she said. That would give stakeholders a chance to express their views on how to ensure that ecotourism would generate the most economic, social and environmental benefits. The Summit's conclusions and recommendations would be reported to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, South Africa, in late August, which was a landmark event intended to secure economic, social and environmental well-being for present and future generations.

    She said that environmental sustainability was everybody's challenge. Failure to act now would compromise the ability of the planet to provide for the needs of future generations. Hopefully, the International Year would help put ecotourism on a truly sustainable path and would encourage all travelers worldwide to make informed and responsible travel choices, which were sensitive to local, natural and cultural riches, and supportive of sustainable tourism practices. Travelling to foreign places was an opportunity to learn and enrich oneself. It should be a "win-win" experience that also benefited local populations and the environment.

    FRANCESCO FRANGIALLI, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, said his organization had spared no effort to make the International Year of Ecotourism a success. Among other things, conferences on the subject had already been held in Mozambique, Brazil, Austria, Greece, the Seychelles, Germany and Algeria, and more were scheduled for the coming year.

    On 11 September, New York was targeted by one of most heinous terrorist attacks of all time, he said. The airline and tourism industries had been directly hit by that catastrophe, causing the rate of travel to drop about 7 per cent from 2000 to 2001. However, a sudden crisis did not necessarily translate into a recession for tourism. It had always managed to bounce back and recover to its previously strong levels. Tourism would definitely pick up in 2002, with international travellers reaching more than 1 billion international tourists by 2010.

    As for ecotourism, it should be seen as a standard of the tourism industry, rather than a passing fad or market niche, he continued. Ecotourism helped lighten the burdens of developing countries and created jobs at a level where they were most needed. Tourism was one of the biggest economic activities in today’s world. It generated $476 billion in 2000 and was one of the biggest sources of international trade receipts. The International Year of Ecotourism was sending a message that tourism should be considered an instrument of poverty alleviation. Putting it on the agenda of the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development would convey the same message. It was possible to reconcile economy with ecology and the environment with development, he concluded.

    KLAUS TOEPFER, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), noted that it was exactly 10 years after the Earth Summit that the Organization was preparing the Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Major topics at the conference included the fight against poverty and giving globalization a human face. Tourism must be integrated into the fight against poverty and acceptable consumption.

    More than 200 million people worked in the tourism industry, he continued. That industry must be addressed to fight poverty in a sustainable way. The best solution was sustainable tourism, which would create jobs and show a clear responsibility for the environment. Ecotourism made people aware of the wonderful diversity of nature, promoting natural areas, educating people and benefiting the local population and economy. The International Year would strive to firmly entrench ecotourism values, so that all could learn and understand them.

    Applying the label "eco" or "green" did not automatically mean that all was good and environmentally fair, he said. Bad practices also occurred and non-governmental organizations from around the world were concerned. There was a need to stimulate dialogue and maximize the positive aspects of ecotourism and its main aim of fighting poverty and changing consumption. Ecotourism must guarantee that certain standards were met and avoid its harmful potential, especially in the disrespect of indigenous culture. Special care must be taken to minimize the impact tourists could have on the local population or environment.

    It was difficult, but possible, to balance ecotourism with poverty eradication and sustainable development, he said. All parties had a role to play, especially grass-roots organizations and people at the city and village levels. Demands must be in line with the availability of local resources. Tourists could not arrive like Gulliver and expect local people to accommodate their vast appetites. Some places were too fragile for motor vehicles or mountain bikes and were out of bounds to the industry. Local people must be involved in all decisions to open up an area to ecotourism, and alerted to the values of their environment and culture, so that ecotourism became a lasting contributor to economic development.

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