LAUNCH - INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ECOTOURISM

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- Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen

- It is fitting that 2002, as we work towards the World Summit on Sustainable Development, has been deemed the International Year of Ecotourism.

- Sustainable tourism, can be, a first step towards sustainable development-it can offer people the opportunity to escape from the poison of poverty

- UNEP is delighted to work with WTO, on this special initiative

- We welcome the opportunity to highlight and promote sustainable tourism- of which Ecotourism can be part - UNEP can play a role in helping develop well-managed tourism - tourism taking account of its environmental, economic and social impact.

- Tourism is a good business - 4.4% of the world's GDP flows directly from tourism - over 200 million people are employed in the tourism industry - together, we should strive to harness this potential for the benefit of people and the environment, all over the world

- ECOTOURISM, is a growing sector of the travel industry- it is my hope that from it we can glean good practices, which could be adapted, and serve as examples for tourism generally.

- What's so special about Ecotourism?

- Why do people decide to take an "ECOTOURISM" holiday?

- Usually, they are trying to find, understand and enjoy a pristine environment - this is a good beginning - their intentions are laudable

- But sometimes I fear that these people are a little gullible , like Gulliver in his travels . They intend the best but accept less than the ideal.

- Ecotourism, at its best, is tourism which promotes natural areas, educates those visiting them, and benefits local people and the local economy

- This Year should be used to firmly entrench those values and to raise awareness of best practice - so that all can learn, and understand fully, what is meant by truly sustainable ECOTOURISM

- There is a great need to examine closely the practice of ECOTOURISM - to ensure that no dilution of the concept takes place in practice

- At present, applying the label "ECO" does not automatically mean that all aspects of an operation are good, that they respect the environment and the people living there.

- To be valuable to the environment, to local people, to tourists, and to the tourist industry, the "Ecotourism" label has to guarantee that certain standards are met.

- All tourism has potential for harm, if badly managed - pollution - damage to wildlife and plants - disrespect for indigenous culture

- Ecotourism has an enhanced ability for harm - It operates in a fragile ecosystem, where the risk of damage and destruction is very high-therefore special care must be taken to minimize the impact of visitors

- Even the most well-meaning "ecotourism" operators and tourists should remember the words of Victor Hugo :

" First it was necessary to civilize man in relation to man. Now it is necessary to civilize man in relation to nature and the animals."

- Ecotourism is a difficult balancing act to perform

- It has to balance the demands of the tourists, with care for the environment

- It has to balance the involvement of the local community, respect for customs and culture, sharing of benefit, with the "rules" of the modern travel industry game

- All concerned parties have a role to play-and everything to gain from playing that role

- The tourists must be made aware of the fragility of the environment into which they are about to venture - their demands must be more in line with the availability of local resources - there is a need to get away from the "bratwurst" OR "peanut butter" mentality

- Tourists cannot arrive like Gulliver in Lilliput and expect the local people to accommodate their culinary preferences and sometimes, vast appetites

- Respect for local culture is vital- (if someone doesn't want their photo taken, this reaction has to be accepted)-the experience will be much richer for all concerned

- The tour operators and those marketing the ecotourism product, must do everything possible to remain true to the ideals of ecotourism-especially when it comes to involving the community and returning benefit to them

- It must be recognized that some places are too fragile for shoe leather - mountain bikes - or motor vehicles - or indeed any kind of tourism-these places therefore remain out of bounds

- The industry also has a duty to educate the tourists, and local people, and increase understanding between them -to ensure that expectations are in line with reality

- Local people must be involved in all the decisions to open up an area to ecotourism

- Through awareness building, they should be alerted to the value of their natural environment and their culture- preservation of the asset is vital to retaining the interest of tourists

- NGOs and UNEP are concerned too - Together we can help guide all stakeholders-thereby facilitating projects which entrench ecotourism values

- Within these constraints Ecotourism can bring benefits

- It is recognized that well-managed ECOTOURISM can help fragile sites

- One good example is the Koroyanitu project, in a national park on the west of the main island of Fiji - the people were looking for alternatives to logging native forest, and land clearing for pine tree planting- they needed to secure a sustainable income - the area was important for conservation because of high natural and cultural values

- The project has been funded to a large extent by New Zealand ODA, and the GEF. The South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and the Native Land Trust Board manages it.

- Tourists take part in nature walks and talks, which have a low impact on the environment

- A programme of awareness raising and training for local people was carried out.

- Tourism supports the protection of the natural resource - landowners realize the value of their asset, and want to preserve it

- Visitors' interest in the nature and culture of the park has renewed local people's pride in their stories and heritage

- Concrete local community development benefits including improved services for local people (roads, communications, sanitation), poverty alleviation, employment opportunities (including for women and young people)

- The project linking conservation and tourism at six natural World Heritage Sites should also be a positive experience.

- It could serve as a blueprint for matching the demands of tourists, with the needs of the local people, the landscape and the environment

(The project is supported by Aveda and the United Nations Foundation and managed by UNEP, UNESCI and RARE Centre for Tropical Conservation)

- Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world's mountains - tourists are drawn, as people have been since time began, by these islands of biodiversity, and awe-inspiring beauty

- The mountains are home to many indigenous peoples and diverse cultures - but the people living there are among the poorest in the world

- In this, the Year of the Mountains, let us strive to make tourism work for the benefit of these people- well-managed ecotourism could bring improvements to the living conditions of mountain dwellers - and help preserve the environment and cultural diversity

- It is my hope, that the Year of Ecotourism will be an educational experience - tools and institutional frameworks can be consolidated, to ensure the sustainable development of Ecotourism -lessons can be learned for the future

- It is in the interest of all, to preserve nature's delicate capital for the good of mankind

- Clear requirements for successful, and sustainable development of ecotourism, can be agreed, and respected

- Today I call on the tourism industry to work with partners, such as UNEP and interested NGOs, to ensure that consumers experience a real "eco" trip - to ensure that their experience is a rich one, both for themselves, the environment, and the people who are the guardians of that environment

- Ultimately, even Gulliver, enjoyed, valued, and learnt from all his bizarre experiences- Ecotourists should too

- UNEP can play a role - We can assist with expertise and advice - Raise awareness (e.g. coral map, guidelines for hotel) - Our aim is to advance sustainable tourism

- I look forward to a year which lays down the foundation for "pure" ECOTOURISM - and the development of sustainable tourism wherever people visit

- I would like to leave you with the words of Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)

" We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect"


 

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