CLEARINGHOUSE FOR REVIEWING ECOTOURISM, No.1
INTRODUCTION TO THE CLEARINGHOUSE FOR REVIEWING ECOTOURISM
We are pleased to inform you about a new information service as part of our campaign ‘2002: International Year of REVIEWING Ecotourism’ (for background information on this campaign, visit Third World Network’s website at www.twnside.org.sg/title/iye.htm.) The aim of this Clearinghouse is to counter-balance the many embellishing and obfuscating representations of ecotourism by bringing the ‘real world’ of this industry to public attention.
We are taking this initiative to disseminate sincere and critical assessments that explain the root causes of ecotourism-related problems and focus on the real needs and aspirations of societies in destination countries. We are concerned that information and proposals from the tourism establishment, international bodies and consultants do not adequately reflect the reality on the ground. Nor are they sufficient to enable national governments to make policy and project decisions that are in line with sustainable development.
This also applies to UNEP and the World Tourism Organization (WTO-OMT), the key agencies implementing the controversial UN-initiated International Year of Ecotourism (IYE). Although some open-minded UNEP and WTO-OMT officials may be willing to consider our recent appeal to Kofi Annan to make the Year a ‘Reviewing Ecotourism’ event, there can be little doubt that the actual purpose of the IYE is to develop commercial opportunities and boost business in ecotourism.
In their official joint statement on the IYE, UNEP and WTO-OMT have pointed out the “efficient marketing and promotion of ecotourism destinations and products on international markets” as a major objective. Also, their proclaimed intention is “to offer an opportunity to review SUCCESSFUL ecotourism experiences world-wide”.
Unfortunately, this is a selective and short-sighted approach that primarily serves to build a positive public image for private industry, government bodies and other institutions that have a keen interest in ecotourism promotion for self-serving purposes. Meanwhile, the majority of the people directly affected continue to be marginalized, and discussions on genuinely sustainable and self-reliant development alternatives to tourism remain disregarded.
Against this background, we believe it is not only legitimate but highly necessary to provide a forum to discuss the crucial issues that ecotourism proponents generally omit and to offer an opportunity for civic groups and ordinary citizens, particularly from the Third World, to make their voices better heard.
With this Clearinghouse, we want to bring forth non-corporate and holistic perspectives on ecotourism and the IYE, by presenting articles that, for example,
- explore the political and economic structures and forces of globalization that drive the international ecotourism industry;
- discuss fundamental questions and deficiencies concerning the definition, concept, policies and practices of ecotourism;
- examine the impacts on local communities and the environment in the context of unequal relations, especially between the North and the South, and dependent development;
- make local struggles against socially and ecologically harmful ecotourism projects visible;
- expose dubious initiatives by tourism developers and operators to “greenwash” themselves in the name of ecotourism;
- document and critically analyze the IYE process and related events and highlight people’s action in response.
With all these burning issues, we very much appreciate your contributions and suggestions on how to develop this information service. Please also help to make this initiative known to other concerned and interested organizations and individuals so that we can expand our list of subscribers and contributors. We are planning mail-outs 2-3 times a month, according to the availability and relevance of materials.
By making a collective effort to develop a more broad-based and coherent ecotourism critique, we also hope to broaden the perspective of the UN as a whole in addition to UNEP and WTO-OMT and to persuade them to take responsibility by raising awareness among member countries and the general public about the serious problems and risks associated with ecotourism. We know this is by no means an easy task. For instance, it also took many years of hard and persistent work and lobbying by civil society organizations fighting child sex tourism before inter-governmental bodies eventually acknowledged the truth and became active on that issue.
Since the corporate tourism industry has become the principal force in the promotion and development of ecotourism, we are starting with an article that sheds light on the organization and agenda of the world’s biggest tourism actors and calls for a Campaign On Corporate Power In Tourism (COCPIT). It also questions the move of the UN and other inter-governmental bodies to form partnerships with large transnational tourism companies and associations and includes a detailed profile of the WTO-OMT, a key organizer of the IYE. A clearer understanding of the contemporary structures and politics of tourism will hopefully help to put the global ecotourism industry and the IYE into proper perspective.
The Campaign coordinating groups: