Rio to Johannesburg:
Paths for International Tourism
DC March 19, 2002 - When delegates
at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit drafted their long-range blueprint
for action, Agenda 21, they made little reference to
the environmental and social impacts of one of the world's
most rapidly growing industriestourism.
Since Rio, international concern about the sustainability
of tourism has grown steadily. Countries have endorsed declarations
on a wide range of related topics, including tourism and sustainable
development, the social impact of tourism, tourism and biodiversity,
and tourism and ethics. In 1996, in an effort to integrate
tourism into broader sustainability discussions, the World
Tourism Organization, the World Travel & Tourism Council,
and the Earth Council released their own action-plan, Agenda
21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry, outlining
key priorities for governments, the industry, and others.
discussion about tourism's impacts has taken on even greater
momentum in 2002, as the U.N.-declared "International Year
of Ecotourism" gets underway. The year will be marked by a
series of multi-stakeholder meetings and a World Ecotourism
Summit in Quebec this May.
will also be an important topic at the upcoming World Summit
on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It is a particularly
relevant area of focus for the conference's "type two" initiativespartnership
agreements that will identify areas for practical, action-oriented
cooperation among key stakeholders, including industries,
governments, international institutions, and non-governmental
importance of addressing tourism's impacts worldwide cannot
be understated. By some estimates, tourism is now the world's
largest industryin 2000, it generated an estimated $3.6
trillion in economic activity and accounted for one in every
12 jobs worldwide. Tourism is especially important in the
developing worldit is the only economic area where developing
countries consistently run a trade surplus. But the industry's
rapid growth has placed a heavy burden on local economies,
cultures, and environments. Uncontrolled tourism development
is stressing many of the planet's most sensitive locations.
the World Summit negotiations begin, Worldwatch encourages
participants to work together to develop practical initiatives
to minimize tourism's negative impacts while boosting its
benefits for local communities and the environment.
tourism businesses are beginning to take positive steps to
become more environmentally and socially responsible. But
long-term sustainability will require deeper changes in the
way the industry operates. Self-interest may very well drive
this shift: while declines in environmental quality can hit
industry pocketbooks directly, evidence is accumulating that
adopting more sensitive practices and helping to make destinations
more attractive can lower costs and boost profits over the
management and operations along environmental lines, including
reducing consumption of water, energy, and other resources
and improving management, handling, and disposal of waste.
Between 1988 and 1995, Inter-Continental Hotels reduced
overall energy costs by 27 percent. It saved $3.7 million
in 1995 alone, cutting sulfur dioxide emissions by 10,670
kilograms and saving 610,866 cubic meters of wateran
average water reduction of nearly 7 percent per hotel, despite
the transfer of environmentally sound technologies, practices,
and management tools to the developing world, including
desalination plants and other water-saving systems, renewable
energy technologies, and ecologically sound chemical management
voluntary "codes of conduct" to regulate the environmental
and social impacts of staff and clients, and ensure that
compliance with these codes is adequately monitored.
Under the International Association of Antarctic Tour
Operators' voluntary code of conduct, the 40 member tour
operators are required to land no more than 100 people per
site at a time and to make sure that visitors do not disturb
and participate in voluntary certification schemes that
grant a seal of approval to companies or destinations that
demonstrate environmentally or socially sound practice.
Europe's Blue Flag Campaign awards a yearly "eco-label"
to some 2,750 beaches and marinas in 21 countries for their
high environmental standards and safe, sanitary facilities.
will need to play a proactive role in supporting the growth
of sustainable tourism. Regulatory and policy frameworks can
be altered to support key environmental and social goals,
without stifling incentives for investment.
tourism planning authorities at the national, regional,
and local levels to incorporate key social and environmental
In 1997, the Council of Europe recommended that member
governments limit tourism development to a level compatible
with ecological and social carrying capacity, including
supporting activities that benefit local communities and
controlling coastal construction.
the development of sustainable tourism projects and facilities
into overall land-use plans.
At Cuba's Cayo Coco, hotels must be no more than four
stories high and are required to be set back from the beach.
Each new building must go through an extensive government
environmental impact assessment before construction is approved.
regulations and policies that support smaller-scale tourism
initiatives that are actively planned and managed by local
communities. For example, governments can boost local land
and resource ownership and market access by offering incentives
like tax breaks, special interest rates, or micro-enterprise
loans, providing low-cost licensing, or offering training
in languages, small business development, and marketing.
The Namibian government allows local communities to assume
legal responsibility for zoning their own agriculture, wildlife,
and tourism activities in multiuse areas called conservancies.
Residents oversee these activities and can derive direct
financial benefit from them.
tourist quotas or encourage the use of taxes, entry fees,
and other economic instruments that reflect the environmental
and social costs of tourism services.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan practices an official policy
of "high-value, low-volume" tourism. It accepted only 7,500
visitors in the year 2000, at a cost of $250 each per day.
and implement regional and global environmental treaties
that relate to tourism, such as the climate change and biodiversity
Organizations (NGOs) and International Institutions
playerssuch as citizen groups and grassroots activistshave
played an important role in generating much of the pressure
for more sustainable tourism. International institutions such
as the World Bank and UNEP have also stepped up their support
for sustainable tourism, including engaging in efforts to
create benchmarks for sustainable tourism that will make it
easier for governments and businesses to measure progress.
unsustainable and inappropriate tourism developments.
In April 2001, local and international activist groups
helped convince the Mexican government to revoke permits
for five hotel companies to build resorts, golf courses,
and other facilities at a 165-hectare stretch of beach south
of Cancun that is home to 40 protected species.
raise awareness of tourism's negative impacts through information
campaigns and training.
The World Travel & Tourism Council has created a video
series on tourism's environmental impact aimed at airlines
Encourage tourists to engage in environmentally and culturally
sensitive behavior, including supporting businesses that
are locally run and staffed, that seek to minimize their
environmental and cultural impacts, or that donate a share
of their profits to local community or conservation efforts.
The Vermont-based International Ecotourism Society helps
travelers choose responsible tour operators and guides and
offers "green" travel advice on their website.