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World Tourism Day 2002: Ecotourism is the key to sustainable development

The 14th General Assembly of WTO did not hesitate in deciding the theme for this year’s World Tourism Day…

The 14th General Assembly of WTO<.> did not hesitate in deciding the theme for this year’s World Tourism Day: Ecotourism: the key to sustainable development. With this decision, it wanted to support the UN General Assembly’s declaration of 2002 as International Year of Ecotourism, in itself an unprecedented designation which reflects the growing recognition by the international community of the potential of tourism, and ecotourism in particular, to contribute to the sustainable development process.

The numerous activities organised by WTO and other international and national agencies, associations, academic institutions and NGOs during this year confirm the importance of the sector. The level of participation and involvement of so many different types of stakeholders in these activities represent a further recognition of the variety of impacts that ecotourism can have on communities, regions and ecosystems, as well as the growing interest of consumers in practising tourism in natural areas, thus contributing to their conservation and sustaining local communities living around these areas.

The official celebration of the twenty-third World Tourism Day will take place in Costa Rica on Friday, 27 September 2002.

The International Year of Ecotourism is proving to be an excellent opportunity to clarify the meaning and significance of this growing market segment, to disseminate guidelines and criteria for its sustainable planning, development and management, to demonstrate good practices and identify risk areas, and to stress the need for cooperation among stakeholders to ensure that benefits are fairly distributed. Many valuable conclusions and recommendations were reached at the World Ecotourism Summit, Quebec, Canada, 19-22 May 2002, that attracted more than 1,100 participants, and at the ten preparatory conferences organized by WTO that preceded it, with over 2,300 participants. They provide, together with the resulting Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism, a massive wealth of policy guidelines, technical know-how and advice, thanks to the wide and participatory process that was at its origin.

These conclusions and recommendations transmitted by WTO to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, convened by the United Nations (Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August – 4 September 2002).

Therefore, the International Year of Ecotourism must not be seen as an end in itself, but rather as an inflection point on the road to sustainable development. Tourism and, particularly ecotourism, has all the potential to contribute to poverty alleviation in remote and rural areas of developing countries. In the developed world, ecotourism can be the best tool for environmental education, for increasing the general public’s awareness of the need to protect fragile ecosystems, and the remedy to stop the abandonment of rural areas and traditional villages. But such potential can only be achieved through a concerted planning and management effort, and with adequate supervisory instruments to avoid the excesses committed in more conventional tourism destinations.

The World Ecotourism Summit called for the introduction of sustainability practices to the tourism sector. Therefore, the lessons learned during this year should not be seen as exclusively applicable to the ecotourism segment. Most of them are indeed valid and applicable to the entire tourism sector, and it is with this spirit that they should be seen by governments, local authorities, the private tourism sector and all those with responsibility for the success of tourism as an engine for sustainable development, including tourists themselves.

The urgent task now is for every stakeholder to make a serious effort to apply the lessons learned in their own tourism destination or enterprise. It is only thus that we can ensure that this International Year becomes a long-lasting success.

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Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.