Tourism that's good for the planet and its inhabitants

A breeding programme for the endangered giant panda has been the backdrop for UN talks on using tourism for development

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Tourism that's good for the planet and its inhabitants

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The southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu has been the host of UN talks on how to make sure tourism plays a key role in sustainable development.

The capital of Sichuan Province is famous for a tourist attraction that has become one of the main research centres attempting to save the endangered giant panda.

The city’s breeding programme has helped bring the species back from the brink of extinction, producing almost 50 newborns in the last three years alone.

Euronews’ Seamus Kearney reported: “It’s against the backdrop of a project like this that the UN World Tourism Organisation is hoping to make progress on a key question: how can tourism be used as a tool for development, but also be good for the planet and its inhabitants.”

At the 22nd UNWTO General Assembly, delegates from more than 130 countries were given a strong message: tourism is a power that must be harnessed for the benefit of all.

2017 has been designated the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai, told Euronews: “Sustainability is about sustaining life for the future generations. No responsible society, no responsible community, must be left behind in this endeavour.

“At stake is life tomorrow. So if you don’t do something about it today, then tomorrow is lost.”

As well as tourism that respects the environment, many countries hope to use it to tackle poverty in vulnerable areas.

Peru’s Deputy Minister of Tourism, Rogers Valencia Espinoza, told Euronews: “We have a programme called Tourism in Rural Communities. It’s dedicated to sustainable tourism and there are three elements to it.

“These enterprises have to integrate the population and combat poverty. We have a big challenge ahead, with a 30% rate of poverty.

“That’s why there has to be a good environmental aspect and a sound business that can deliver quality products to foreign visitors.”

“This programme includes a number of communities in the tourism sector around Lake Titicaca and around Cuzco and Puno.”

Ghana’s Minister of Tourism, Catherine Abelema Afeku, said: “For Ghana, tourism is centralised. It’s a theme that links properly with sustainable development, so using tourism as a tool for development synchs with the sustainable development goals, especially for a developing nation.

“The key component is elimination of poverty, education, girl and child education, which are all encapsulated in the sustainable development goals.”

“We as a nation are using tourism as a transformative agent to eliminate poverty.”

Euronews also asked Afeku where she thought there was room for improvement on the issue globally.

“Globally I think more emphasis should be placed on infrastructure development across Africa, to open up Africa for tourism, an infrastructure fund dedicated for tourism.

“I think a lot of government policies tend to sideline tourism as a strategic sector for development; so a lot of emphasis on energy, on roads, on mining, but tourism is seen as a soft sector.

“It needs to be seen as a central, pivotal sector that can bring a leapfrog development for a lot of nations.

“If dedicated funds are earmarked for tourism development – in terms of linking it to transport, to infrastructure, and to conservation of natural resources, such as flora and fauna, the animals – if we bring that policy to the centre, a global focus, we will see tourism becoming the transformative agent for change globally.”

Fighting poverty is also crucial in China, the world’s fourth most popular holiday destination, and Chengdu has launched a development programme called Tourism Plus.

The director of the Chengdu Municipal Tourism Administration,
Duo Yang Na Mu, told Euronews: “For example, tourism plus healthcare and rehabilitation; tourism plus sports; tourism plus ecological construction; and tourism plus culture.

“We want to achieve overall sustainable development by promoting integrated development.”

Using tourism to preserve cultural heritage is also big for other countries; Portugal, for example, has included this in a 200-million-euro programme called ‘Valorizar’ or ‘highlight or promote’.

The Portuguese Secretary of State for Tourism, Ana Mendes Godinho, said: “We’ve invited people to come up with projects that highlight our territory, our culture, our people. Private individuals and local communities can be the ones with the ideas about what are the best projects for their regions.

“It has been incredible to see the dynamic way in which local communities have gone out to create projects that focus on the identity of their region, their products, and to transform these into tourism products that attract people to their regions, and invigorate crafts, commerce and agriculture.”

She added: “One example is the revitalisation of old tapestries in Portalegre (a town in southern Portugal). These are lovely tapestries made in the countryside. We are putting the tapestries back into use and they are being produced again so we don’t lose this tradition.”

“These tapestries were at risk of disappearing, an art that was in danger of disappearing. But now there’s once again an opportunity to re-establish a market and recreate a way of life for the population that lives on the traditional industry of handicrafts.”

Social development is another priority; Japan, for example, wants tourism to help its ageing population through greater contact with outside visitors.

Mamoru Kobori, the Executive Vice President of the Japan National Tourism Organisation, told Euronews: “People can maintain their lifestyle and culture as sustainable through interacting with incoming visitors, enjoying the conversation and the different communications and that’s the way we are trying to develop inbound tourism.

“People are very much encouraged to receive visitors with warm hospitality and we would like to keep that going.”

He added: “I think all of the sustainable development goals are very relevant and important to Japan, as well as the rest of the world.”

“Japan’s inbound tourism has increased so greatly, which gives us a great opportunity to vitalise our regional communities, economically and socially.

“With the increasing number of incoming tourists into regional areas, people’s lifestyles and earnings and jobs are expected to grow and that will be a very good vitalisation from inbound tourism.”

But Euronews’ Seamus Kearney reported: “There is also pressure on countries to put words into action.

“There’s already a code of ethics for WTO member states. But there have been growing calls for a stronger international convention or charter,” he said.

Chengdu provided plenty of food for thought on that: the general assembly agreed to a binding framework convention, covering everything from freedom of movement for holiday makers to the rights of tourism workers.

The Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai, said: “The Global Code of Ethics was approved by the UNWTO General Assembly in 2001. We’ve been working with it and around it for 16 years.

“It’s time now to move it to a different level; we feel that, we know that, because countries and member states need to take it more seriously. I’m not saying that they are not now, but a code is a code and a convention is a convention.

“A code is a voluntary tool, a convention is a more responsible and more committing tool. That’s why this is the right time to move it to that level.”

Since 2013 a special committee has been examining the best way to craft a convention.

The Chairman of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, Pascal Lamy, said in a statement: “In an interconnected world where the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles, it is important to set out a legal framework to ensure that growth is dealt with responsibly and that it can be sustained over time.”