Making Tourism Sustainable

The challenge of the World Tourism Forum is to find ways to allow people to enjoy traveling around the world while at the same time limiting the negative impact to the environment and to local cultures caused by such activity. The greatest challenge facing humanity at the start of the 21st Century is to preserve the environment. Nature is a dynamic system where all the parts are interconnected. Mankind is part of the grand scheme, and yet acts in such a way as to destroy the very eco-system that he depends upon.

Carbon emissions in 2012 have reached 390 parts per million. On November 9th, 2011 the International Energy Agency published research showing that the ‘door is closing’; and that unless we change our habits of energy consumption and carbon output we will be unable to prevent catastrophic climate change that will see sea levels rise, mass flooding, rapid species extinction (not experienced since the last Ice Age) and whole scale desertification.

At the same time economic activity (which includes tourism) is exhausting natural resources? fossil fuels, trees, water, marine resources, soil, minerals and plant resources are all being exhausted. With the world reeling from a severe economic downturn the temptation is to ignore calls for environmental responsibility (as shown in COP 17 meeting) and exploit natural resources even more to try and kick start ailing economies.

It is not just a matter of irresponsible use of natural resources that is making the present situation untenable, unsustainable; it is also pollution. Factories are polluting the air and water supplies, oil exploration is repeatedly polluting the sea and agricultural products are polluting the soil.

One of the biggest challenges for sustainable tourism is cultural pollution. As the world becomes a village small isolated communities in mountainous areas, by beaches and in forests have a growing contact with the outside world. As well as positive influences such as increased income there is also a tendency for these cultural units to be polluted by drugs, prostitution and the lure of easy money. Men stop fishing and do boat tours, women stop working the fields and become waitresses and sex workers. Children stop attending to their classes and take up begging and entertaining tourists. It is a sad pattern that can be seen all over the world.

At the same time tourism has become a consumer product. Too many people are taking planes, hiring cars, demanding air-con and willfully causing carbon emissions. The drive to ‘up-grade’ accommodation has resulted in too many swimming pools and golf courses all draining water resources and causing yet more carbon emissions.

The mission of World Tourism Forum is to find ways to allow people to travel without destroying the environment and without undermining local customs and ways of life. Since 2004 delegates have been meeting from all over the world to discuss ways to promote eco-tourism and to make tourism sustainable. Thousands of delegates from many countries gather to discuss the issues that beset their countries and to suggest ameliorative measures. Delegates come from the hotel industry, from NGOs, from conservation groups and from indigenous groups. According to Helene Rocques of the Sustainable Development for Accor Group, “It is possible to harmonize pleasure with sustainability”.

Many initiatives have already been taken. Some more successful than others. These include encouraging governments to set up eco-tourist areas. One successful example of this is Koh Phangan in Thailand. 90% of the island’s tree cover has been preserved by means of setting up National Parks and limiting building. As a result Koh Phangan has maintained its pristine natural environment and is now beginning to overtake the neighboring island of Koh Samui in terms of tourist numbers that has let unregulated development pollute beaches and cause wide scale deforestation. Tourists don’t like the negative results that the temptation of the tourist dollar has caused and are looking for unspoiled natural beauty.

Another important area of sustainable tourism is nautical tourism. Diving, snorkeling, fishing and sailing have all in the past caused pollution, damaged coral reefs and depleted marine resources. Organizations such as government tourist ministries and regulatory bodies such as PADI continue to improve guidelines to make nautical tourism sustainable.

As people travel more they become jaded with the ‘regular’ tourist destinations and seek to go to more and more ‘exotic’ locations such as Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands. It is vital that systems be put in place to preserve these natural environments and the indigenous culture.

Finally, there is the unavoidable fact that airplane travel causes immense amounts of carbon emissions not just in flights but also in building airplanes. It is essential to encourage people to take more environmentally friendly types of transport where possible. It is also essential that airline companies are lobbied (as well as governments) to set up more rigorous strictures for off-setting. It is not just a matter of emitting less carbon but also of planting more trees and other carbon recyclers. The World Tourism Forum intends to bring all the major players together to make these things happen.

This website is intended as a resource for all those connected to the tourist industry. The articles herein introduce travel destinations and travel products and seek to encourage debate on how to make tourism sustainable. If solutions are not discussed and enacted foreign tourism could well go the way of the dodo

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