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Plenary session of the World Ecotourism Summit, opening statement 20 May 2002, Quebec

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

- Welcome to the plenary session of the World's first Summit on Ecotourism.

- I am delighted to see that we have over 1,100 delegates, from all over the world. It bodes well for our work over the coming days. It confirms support for the UN's declaration of 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism.

- I believe that the partnerships forged here, and the outcome of our deliberations, will create a solid foundation for building up Ecotourism in the future.

- Why did UNEP and WTO decide to organize this Summit?

- To raise the awareness among all stakeholders of ecotourism's capacity to contribute:

- to the conservation of the natural environment and cultural heritage in remote areas

- and to the improvement of standards of living in those areas;

- To share lessons learned on planning, management, regulation and monitoring of ecotourism;

- To finalize the Quebec City Declaration on Ecotourism, for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg

- To forge multistakeholder alliances that will help us implement Johannesburg's recommendations.

- We plan to examine a number of themes which encompass key issues raised by the development of ecotourism.

They are:

- Policy and planning

- Regulation and institutional responsibilities

- Product development and promotion

- Monitoring costs and benefits of ecotourism, ensuring equitable distribution of benefits

- I would just like to share with you briefly UNEP's vision and expectations on each of these themes. I hope that in a spirit of co-operation and partnership, we will be able to develop these ideas together and take them forward.

Policy and planning

- Ecotourism cannot exist and grow in a vacuum, it has to be integrated into sustainable development plans, land use plans and especially plans for the use of natural protected areas

- Although governments will take a leading role, local communities have to be involved in policy development and planning- they are the guardians of natural assets at present, they should retain responsibility for these assets

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

- Proper planning and management is needed, to avoid threatening the biological diversity upon which ecotourism depends.

- Planning should always take account of the future sustainability of the project-only initiatives which will flourish after donor-funding dries up, should be developed

- The recently published Ecotourism Guide (Ecotourism: Practices, and policies for sustainability), by UNEP and the International Ecotourism Society, and the "Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas" manual with IUCN and WTO should assist this process.

Regulation and Institutional responsibilities

- One of the problems, which Ecotourism has encountered is the lack of internationally recognized standards.

- "Greenwashing" has occurred all too often, devaluing the whole concept of ecotourism

- It is therefore imperative, and in the interest of all stakeholders, to ensure that there are guidelines, certification and codes of conduct, which are agreed and accepted as binding

- Principles and guidelines such as the WTO Global Code of Ethics, the UNEP Principles for Sustainable Tourism and the CBD Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism in Vulnerable Ecosystems have to be translated into concrete standards for ecotourism.

- This meeting offers us all a unique opportunity to develop such instruments, and to commit to their adoption.

- UNEP is working with other partners in the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council, to examine the feasibility of an international accreditation body for ecotourism and sustainable tourism.

Product development and promotion

- Ecotourism operates in a fragile environment-often it is this fragility, which is the main attraction for tourists

- Therefore there is a need to balance the demands of the tourists, the needs and concerns of the local community, and the interests of the tourism industry, with care for the environment

- The tourists must be made aware of the delicate environment into which they are about to venture - their demands must be in line with the availability of local resources

- In ecotourism, the role of locally owned micro-, small- and medium enterprises is essential. We need to find ways to build their capacity to survive, and maintain their social and environmental standards, thereby increasing economic benefits to local communities, and helping to address poverty.

- Local communities 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

- 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

- 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

- We look forward to working with the tourism industry to develop new products in connection with some of our conservation initiatives, such as ICRAN, the Mountain Commons project, and GRASP.

Monitoring costs and benefits of Ecotourism

- Many of the areas which have potential for ecotourism are underdeveloped and poor

- In the local community incomes are often limited, and income generating activities can even be at the expense of the environment, a valuable resource

- (e.g. Koroyanitu project, national park 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)

- Ideally, tourism should support the protection of the natural resource - landowners should come to understand the value of their asset, and want to preserve it

- Visitors' interest in the nature and culture of an area can renew local people's pride in their stories and heritage

- 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

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

- Ongoing research and monitoring is needed, not only from academia, but from all affected stakeholders - what are the lessons learned in these last 15 years of ecotourism? How can they be applied?

CONCLUSION

- We are all responsible

- The environment is the major asset of the developing world - the poor have little else - it must be preserved and used responsibly for sustainable development-Ecotourism can play a role in ensuring the preservation and use of natural assets

- Responsibility to act now, rest with all stakeholders- Governments, local communities, tourists, the tourism industry and international organizations, such as my own

- Many of you here have good and bad experiences, to share over the coming days. We all look forward to learning from you.

- I echo the hopes of Kofi Annan, that in here and Johannesburg we will see all stakeholders come together in a new coalition, "A coalition for responsible prosperity" - a coalition to fight poverty and change unsustainable consumption patterns.

- In our case, I hope that it will also be a coalition:

1. To establish guidelines and standards for Ecotourism

2. To improve the environmental and social record of ecotourism, through concrete projects on the ground

3. To bring the lessons learned here on Ecotourism to the attention of the international community at WSSD

4. To ensure that the Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism is more than a piece of paper, it is a document, which should be implemented.