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13 Oct, 2008

“Another Tourism is Possible,” Say Civil Society Groups

Non-governmental organisations in the travel & tourism industry took advantage of World Tourism Day last month to stress that the present financial crises may prove to be a short-term phenomenon, and that the industry would still have to deal with long-term issues.

NGOs in Asia and Europe used Sept 27, World Tourism Day, to issue calls for the industry to respect the environment, curb usage of water, observe the laws, especially those involving national parks and other fragile ecosystems, and respect human rights of migrant workers and indigenous peoples.

At a pre-event “Another Tourism is Possible – For a Change of Climate in Tourism”, the European NGO Tourism Watch – a special desk of the German Church Development Service (EED) called upon the travel and tourism industry and the UN World Tourism Organisation to ensure that tourism growth plans and strategies do not come at the expense of environmental and social costs.

“We fear that the well-known tourism and human rights problems in tourist destinations will be exacerbated by the impacts of climate change,” said Heinz Fuchs, director of Tourism Watch.

In Egypt, the revolt of the hungry earlier this year shook the country at a time when the government published new record figures for the tourism sector, Mr. Fuchs said. By consuming large amounts of water, for example, tourism contributes to the factors that threaten food security in this arid country.

Travel and tourism companies must expand their concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and ensure gender justice. They must protect children from exploitation and respect the land rights of farmers, he said.

Equations, a Bangalore-based Indian tourism NGO, issued a statement saying: “ There is no ecosystem on our living planet that has not felt tourism’s footprints. While the fact that tourism has negative impacts on the environment and on indigenous & local communities is widely acknowledged, practically nothing is being done to check these undesirable impacts.

“ Furthermore, tourism is increasingly being located in natural areas that are frontier, inaccessible, untouched, critical in terms of their biodiversity, and ecologically fragile.

“ Current national policies and tourism policies of various states and union territories in India prioritise infrastructure-driven tourism, and rarely address issues of impacts, regulation, and management.

“ The scenario is not very different with environmental and forest laws prevalent in India today. Environmental regulation in tourism is weak, and even what exists is flouted with impunity, by both policy makers themselves and the tourism industry.”

“ The push to allow tourism infrastructure to be built in violation of coastal zoning regulations has received overt support from policy makers and planners at the state and centre, with regulations are seen as archaic and “anti-development,” the Equations statement alleged.

It called on India national and state governments to reclaim their regulatory role by “seriously considering the negative and destructive impacts of tourism on the environment and indigenous & local communities and incorporating these in tourism policies and planning frameworks.”

It also called on the tourism and travel industry to “walk their talk on their commitment to the environment by respecting and complying with laws and regulations to ensure long term sustainable equitable and sensible tourism and not only pushing for short term rewards.”

One of the papers presented at a series of events organised by the watchdog groups was headlined, “Some reflections from the South“ by Indian activist T.T. Sreekumar and looked at questions of social justice in the context of climate change and tourism.

Mr. Sreekumar highlighted the role of emerging economies as tourist sending markets and the need for local communities and activists to strategically respond to this new phenomenon.

Fei Tevi, Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, said climate change had a life and death issue in the Pacific islands. The dramatic impacts of climate change on a “sinking tourism paradise” include rising sea levels, coastal erosion, salinated freshwater sources, dying coral reefs, and tropical storms.

Said Mr Fuchs, “While tourism is contributing to climate change, in the Pacific it is also seen as a tool to raise awareness for the plight of the people affected by climate change.”

In the Himalayas, melting glaciers lead to increased flooding along the rivers of the region, affecting large regions in South Asia.

Tour operators, too, are caught on the horns of a dilemma, according to German activist Andreas Zotz. “On the one hand, they recognize that climate change mitigation is essential; on the other hand, a net reduction of their emissions would cannibalise’ their core business in the short term, as it requires a fundamental reorganisation of contemporary business models,” he said.

For tour operators to effectively reduce their product-related emissions, technological innovation has to be combined with other approaches, e.g. promoting changes in travel behaviour and environmentally friendly mobility management.

According to Mr. Zotz, tour operators could lead to significant emissions reductions by incorporating climate protection as a guiding principle into existing business strategies, intelligent product design and carbon foot printing.

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