|Sustainable Tourism and Poverty Elimination (UNED-UK, 1999)|
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development will discuss tourism at its 7th Session in 1999. It will also hold a two day dialogue session where NGOs, trade unions, industry and local government will put forward their viewpoints on how tourism might be made more sustainable. This exchange with governments will inform the formal negotiating process. Tourism is a very heterogeneous industry but can be seen as an important driver to enable poverty elimination through the development of new employment opportunities and the enhancement of local economies. The development of 'pro-poor' economic development is seen as crucial to sustainable development.
There was a workshop on 'Sustainable Tourism and Poverty Elimination' held in October 1998 by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by the Department for International Development on October 13th 1998. A paper by Harold Goodwin of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology was used as the focus of a group discussion; the paper raised eight questions about tourism in developing countries:
· Can an adequate regulatory framework be established within which codes of ethical and sustainable trading, labelling and rating systems can have credibility and achieve change?
· How can these objectives be achieved given the dominance of the tourist originating countries?
· Can Northern governments, international aid agencies and NGO's and Southern governments work together to redress the balance?
· How can developing country governments and donors identify projects and destinations where local economic benefits are likely to be maximised through market access, local linkages, taxation and employment?
· How can best practice in local integrated tourism development be identified and then shared?
· How can local communities be empowered to participate m the management of destination areas?
· How can the international tourism industry, NGOs and governments assist in programmes to enhance local participation in the industry?
· What role can UK tour operators and NGOs play in developing these partnerships?
Subsequently it was agreed that these would be addressed under two broad headings and that they would have a destination focus. The two areas were:
(1) How can we develop partnerships for sustainable tourism?
(2) What roles do certification, incentives and regulation have?
The original paper was used to inform the UK Government and European Union co-ordination on sustainable tourism needs. It is based on a workshop held at UNED-UK on the 9th of February 1999. The report aims to provide input to the forthcoming UN Commission on Sustainable Development meeting in April 1999.
There were initial contributions from Sharon James of the UK Development Organization Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), Richard Dickinson of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and Toby Middleton (UNED-UK). The discussion began with comments on the current situation, where most organisations involved in tourism are aware of the need to meet issues of sustainability, such as tourist behaviour, education, local economies and environmental protection. What remains less clear is the mechanism by which changes can occur. Building links between interested parties will help to ascertain the existing position of tourism operations, uncover examples of good practice and areas where difficulties arise in the process of tourism development. Approximately 1/3rd of all tourism companies already provide some form of information about their commitment towards sustainability but that still leaves 2/3rds of organisations in the dark. There clearly needs to be a focussing of priority areas between different groups in terms defining action plans and time frames for more effective implementation. VSO, amongst other NGOs, feel that there is a need to redress the balance of sustainable activities to better reflect community issues as well as the existing environmental issues, and therefore better incorporate the principles of Agenda 21. Industry is really beginning to respond to the needs of environmental sustainability but there is discontinuity in terms of the incorporation of social and cultural areas. Also corporations need to continue to avoid merely fulfilling legislatory obligations but keep acting ahead of more formal frameworks, to maintain a more pro-active stance. The challenge is open for all patties toward more practical forms of action rather than simply continuing to debate over the issues.
Tourism is a fairly mature market for many nations and has close connection with other issues of sustainability, such as oceans and coastal zone management, indigenous communities etc. Hence the linkages between the key areas of sustainability for tourism are often more clearly apparent than other areas. However, the ties with development and environmental and social aspects are not always so transparent. Furthermore, there is the potential for local tourism companies to fail if a locality is wholly dependent on tourism as a means for development. Therefore tourism needs to act as more of a link/seed for diversification of industries and in support of capacity building, e.g. in terms of capital and technical resources.
At a recent tourism side-event at the UNEP Governing Council meeting, the demand for increased community and regional involvement in tourism development was highlighted. It was suggested that a greater need for industrial accountability, via tools such as benchmarking and the setting of time lines to create more quantitative goals and monitor the progress of implementation. The discussions at the side-event also raised the view that policies, in relation to sustainable tourism, will need to be more practicable within the industrial arena. It is also still unclear who will continue the debate at the interagency/UN level and highlight issues, such as financial leakages, community engagement and the role of the tourist in participatory processes at an international level.