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International Year of Ecotourism launched in New York

The global importance of ecotourism<.>, its benefits as well as its impacts, was recognized with the launching at New York of the International Year…

The global importance of ecotourism<.>, its benefits as well as its impacts, was recognized with the launching at New York of the International Year of Ecotourism by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fruchette.

Hosted by the Year`s two international coordinator-the World Tourism Organisation (WTO<.>/OMT) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-the UN Headquarters event involved the participation of several government ministers, heads of intergovernmental organizations, and representatives of leading industry associations and non-governmental groups.

In 1998, the UN General Assembly decided to observe 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism, offering an opportunity for interested local and national stakeholders to review the social and environmental benefits that the ecotourism industry can offer host countries when suitably developed.

With a series of global and local events, publications and discussion platforms, beginning with this launch, the Year will be a time to review the ecotourism industry`s effect on biodiversity, its potential contribution to sustainable development, its social, economic and environmental impacts, and the degree to which regulatory mechanisms and voluntary programmes are effective in monitoring and controlling those impacts.

As ecotourism involves a broad range of interest groups-from local communities and indigenous peoples to global corporations, national Governments and development agencies-it has received mixed reviews on the effectiveness of its ambitious goals. However, in recognition of the importance placed on the issue, some 40 national and local multi-stakeholder committees have already been set up to organize activities related to the Year.

The tripling of flows in the space of a generation, and the growing pressure to which the environment, tourism sites and host populations will inevitably be subject as a result, should encourage us, today as in the past, and despite the current crisis of the tourism industry, to think and act with a view to the sustainable development of this activity, said WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli.

Ecotourism, is far from being a fringe activity. It should not be regarded as a passing fad or a gimmick, or even as a secondary market niche, but rather as one of the trump cards of this industry of the future, i.e. tourism. And for a simple reason: it is crucial to the problem of developing a balanced, sustainable and responsible tourism sector, he said.

Ecotourism has many definitions, but as a general goal it should provide an opportunity to develop tourism in ways that minimize the industry`s negative impacts and a way to actively promote the conservation of Earth`s unique biodiversity, said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director. If handled properly, ecotourism can be a valuable tool for financing the protection of ecologically sensitive areas and the socio-economic development of populations living in or close to them.

Other goals of the International Year of Ecotourism include:

Generate greater awareness among public authorities, the private sector, civil society and consumers regarding ecotourism`s capacity to contribute to the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage in natural and rural areas, and the improvement of standards of living in those areas;

Disseminate methods and techniques for the planning, management, regulation and monitoring of ecotourism to guarantee its long-term sustainability;

Promote exchanges of experiences and lessons learned in the field of ecotourism; and

Increase opportunities for the efficient marketing and promotion of ecotourism destinations and products on international markets.

The key global event for the Year will be the World Ecotourism Summit, hosted by Canada, in Quebec City, from 19 to 22 May, to which over 500 high-level delegates and experts from all regions are already pre-registered. Twenty international preparatory conferences, started last year, will feed directly into the Summit (see

The World Ecotourism Summit is expected to be the largest ever gathering of the different stakeholders concerned with the issue, said Mr. Toepfer. It will be the key global event for the International Year. To ensure that ecotourism follows a truly sustainable path will require increased cooperation-and partnerships -among the tourism industry, Governments, local people and the tourists themselves and the Summit offers that opportunity.

Ecotourism Facts

Ecotourism has been defined as a form of nature-based tourism in the marketplace, but it has also been formulated and studied as a sustainable development tool by NGOs, development experts and academics since 1990. The term ecotourism, therefore, refers, on one hand, to a concept under a set of principles, and, on the other hand, to a specific market segment.

According to a 2001 WTO/OMT study, ecotourism may represent between 2 and 4 per cent of global tourism. The global significance of ecotourism does not come from its revenue volume, but rather because it strives to:

Protect the rapidly disappearing ecosystems that house most of the remaining biodiversity on Earth, and it is one of the few feasible economic tools to finance conservation of sensitive ecosystems; and

Ensure that local communities have a voice in sustainable development, that they benefit positively from revenue flows, since ecotourism operations and infrastructure are generally small-size and are run directly by them, and that less impacting alternative livelihoods are available.

During 2002 the UN is observing both the International Year of Ecotourism and the International Year of Mountains. Links between these two issues will be explored, and UNEP is focusing on ecotourism alternatives in Mountain Commons as one of the key interfaces between economic sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

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