New UNEP Guide on Tourism and Deserts Launched on World Environment Day

Tourism and Deserts

New UNEP Guide on environmentally friendly desert tourism launched on World Environment Day

ALGIERS, 5 June 2006 – Drinking purified, as opposed to mineral water in plastic bottles, taking your old batteries back home, and using gas rather than firewood for cooking are some of the ways to lessen the environmental impact of the increasingly popular desert holiday.

These and other tips concerned with issues like desert driving, accommodation, and respect for local communities and cultures are some of the “do’s and don’ts” contained in a new publication on desert tourism released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Tourism and Deserts - A Practical Guide to Managing the Social and Environmental Impacts in the Desert Recreation Sector”, is being launched here in Algiers as part of UNEP’s World Environment Day activities on 5 June.

The main World Environment Day celebrations for 2006 are being held in the Algerian capital Algiers with the theme “Don’t Desert Drylands!” 2006 is also the United Nations International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

The Tourism guide complements the UNEP Global Desert Outlook report, (also released today - see www.unep.org), which describes how the world’s deserts are facing dramatic changes as a result of global climate change, high water demands, tourism and salt contamination of irrigated soils.

Speaking at the launch of the Global Deserts Outlook report in Algiers today, Mr Kakakhel, UNEP’s Officer in Charge and Deputy Executive Director, said “Tourism based around desert nature can, if sensitively managed, deliver new prospects and perspectives for people in some of the poorest parts of the world.”

Targeted at the tourism industry, the social, economic and environmental opportunities that carefully planned tourism can bring is a theme running throughout the new UNEP Tourism publication.

“The guide seeks to promote desert tourism as a leading source of sustainable development in the countries concerned,” said Monique Barbut, Director of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE). “With careful planning, tour operators can help mitigate the seasonal nature of desert tourism by generating positive social, economic, and environmental impacts that will offer year-round benefits for the communities living in desert destinations,” she said.

This sentiment is echoed by H.E, Mr. Cherif Rahmani, Minister for the Environment of Algeria, in a foreword to the new UNEP guide. “From a sustainable development perspective, the growth of tourism needs to be economically viable, ecologically sustainable and ethically and socially equitable for local populations,” he writes. “There is a need, then, to create and develop mechanisms to enable the different actors concerned (governments, communities, the public and private sectors, NGOs and local populations, among others) to work effectively together to find the balance required for the sustainable development of desert tourism.”

According to the new UNEP guide, the growth in demand for desert travel and changing consumption patterns (reduced journey durations, shorter and more frequent holidays), means that supply has shifted towards shorter, cheaper tours further afield, to the detriment of diversity and sometimes of quality. The increased availability of charter flights has also improved access to certain desert regions that were not accessible for short tours in the past years.

It also notes that desert tourism is growing fast, but the tolerance threshold for visitor numbers in these ecosystems is not high. Success in controlling the development of this kind of tourism (transport methods, group sizes, relationship between quality and fair pricing, etc.) will determine its appeal to travellers, the guide says.

“Tourism and Deserts” aims to help tour operators, hotel owners, car rental companies, and others, to pursue the development of deserts as tourist destinations in an environmental friendly manner, and in a way that respects local needs and cultures.

It stresses that tourism professionals who make use of these areas have a professional responsibility – based on their commercial interest in maintaining the resources on which their business depends – to do this. According to the Guide, “Accepting this responsibility is the best way to ensure that tourists will still want to come to the deserts. It is also essential to the sustainable future of local populations.”

Tourism and Deserts publication was prepared in partnership with the Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Development (see www.toinitiative.org) and with funding from the French Ministry of Environment. The Guide, available in English, French and Arabic, can be downloaded from www.unep.fr/tourism

For more information please contact Robert Bisset, UNEP Spokesperson in Europe on tel + 33 1 4437 7613, Mob +33 6 2272 5842, email: Robert.bisset@unep.fr


 

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