30 January 2002
Deputy Secretary-General Reviews Dangers, Potential Rewards of Ecotourism
NEW YORK, 28 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the launching ceremony of the International Year of Ecotourism:
It is my great pleasure to be with you on the occasion of the launching of the International Year of Ecotourism. I owe this pleasure, in part, to the Secretary-General, who had hoped to be here today but had to fly to Tokyo to attend the donor conference for Afghanistan, and is now travelling in the region.
As you know, I come from a country where the natural environment is still in large part preserved. Canada has great stretches of wilderness, abundant flora and fauna, vast prairies, lakes and ancient forests, whose spectacular beauty draws growing numbers of tourists every year. But this splendid environment is a fragile gift. If not well managed, it could fall into irreversible deterioration.
That is why I am pleased that 2002 has been designated the International Year of Ecotourism. There is an urgent need to alert public opinion to the many effects of tourism on our natural and cultural heritage, and to promote responsible tourism.
Now more than ever, people are travelling for pleasure. In many popular destinations, however, the harmful effects of tourism are all too visible; these include:
coastal areas marred by huge resorts and overbuilding;
beaches, coral reefs and other natural attractions damaged or destroyed by irresponsible development;
natural habitats devastated by streams of visitors; and
indigenous cultures corrupted by the influx of foreign money, goods and cultural values.
Over the past 20 years, "nature tourism" has become increasingly popular throughout the world. More and more tourists want to leave the beaten path, heading out to discover fresh sensations and new places to explore. A large variety of tour operators offer "ecotourist activities" these days. But, like mass tourism, ecotourism -- which takes visitors to unspoiled or highly sensitive natural environments -- may have devastating effects if it is not properly managed. Even more than other forms of tourism, irresponsible ecotourism threatens the environmental attractions that are the very reason for its existence.
Thus, a number of non-governmental organizations have expressed their concern that the International Year of Ecotourism could help to promote uncontrolled forms of "nature tourism", and thus bring about damage to the natural and sociocultural environment.
These are legitimate concerns.
But I believe that, if we work together, the Year will afford us the opportunity to promote a kind of ecotourism that encourages the conservation of natural resources, while at the same time determining ways of minimizing its negative effects.
This is a goal we can all reach, with the cooperation and full commitment of all partners -- governments and non-governmental organizations, the private sector (in particular, the tourism industry), the host communities and, of course, the tourists themselves. We must all realize that if we want tourist activities in sensitive areas to continue, we must preserve these areas.
Each country and each region has its specificities, which should be taken into account when developing an ecotourism project. But I think that we can agree on the key principles and guidelines for ecotourism development and management that have been identified by the World Tourism Organization, the United Nations and other international bodies:
ensuring that ecotourism contributes to conservation, and to the sustainable development of adjoining lands and communities;
avoiding anarchic and disorderly development by creating specific strategies;
ensuring the participation of local communities at all stages of an ecotourism project;
minimizing the negative impact that accommodation, transport facilities and any activities organized for tourists may have on the natural and cultural environment;
ensuring that a reasonable proportion of the income generated by tourism-related activities goes to local communities and into conserving the natural heritage;
and last but not least, raising awareness that tourism can be practised in different, more environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways.
Tourism-related activities make up the world's largest economic sector, contributing directly and indirectly approximately 7 per cent of global production -- a figure that can be much higher in developing countries -- and providing millions of jobs worldwide. For many countries -- particularly in the developing world -- tourism is one of the major sources of income and job creation.
Today ecotourism represents 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, it is one of the fastest-growing segments in the tourism industry, and it has a great potential for economic development, especially in remote areas where few other possibilities exist.
Ecotourism is managed mainly by small companies, and can therefore help develop entrepreneurial talents in local communities. It can benefit other small-scale economic sectors, such as traditional agriculture and food production, handicrafts and textiles. It can help fix populations in rural areas by providing jobs for the unskilled as well as the highly qualified, and it can promote the development of basic infrastructure in remote locations.
If it is properly planned, developed and managed, ecotourism can help improve the living standards of local populations, while supporting the conservation of the natural ecosystems that are so necessary to sustain life on our planet.
The International Year of Ecotourism offers the opportunity to share best practices and successful ecotourism experiences. Let me remind you that 2002 is also the International Year of the Mountains. Mountains are the second most popular tourism destination worldwide, and in many cases particularly well suited to ecotourism.
The main event of the Year will be the World Ecotourism Summit -- to be held from 19 to 22 May in Quebec City, Canada. It will give all stakeholders a chance to express their views on how to ensure that ecotourism will indeed generate the economic, social and environmental benefits expected from it. We will hear more about the Summit from Richard Legendre, the Minister for Tourism, Recreation and Sport of the Province of Quebec, who is here with us today.
The Summit's conclusions and recommendations will be reported to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, South Africa, in late August -- a landmark event intended to secure economic, social and environmental well-being for present and future generations.
Environmental sustainability is everybody's challenge. If we fail to act now, we will compromise the ability of our planet to provide for the needs of future generations.
I hope that the International Year will help put ecotourism on a truly sustainable path and will encourage all travellers worldwide to make informed and responsible travel choices, that are sensitive to local natural and cultural riches, and supportive of sustainable tourism practices. Travelling to foreign places is an opportunity to learn and to enrich oneself. Let us make it a win-win experience that also benefits local populations and the environment.
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* Revised to include portions translated from French.