Klaus Toepfer
Executive Director
United Nations Environment Programme
PO Box 30552
Nairobi, Kenya


21 November 2000

Subject: Call for a Fundamental Reassessment of the International Year of Ecotourism

Dear Mr. Toepfer,

We, the undersigned NGOs from the South and North, have been following the preparatory discussions on the International Year of Ecotourism 2002. We are extremely concerned that this event will result in inflationary ecotourism policies that aggravate, rather than reduce threats to the environment and local communities in destinations, particularly in the South. In light of the many serious problems related to the ecotourism industry, we are alarmed that UNEP and the World Tourism Organization (WTO) are going ahead with the organization of the IYE, without formulating a clear agenda and an action plan to prevent undesirable developments that can emerge from this event.

There is the danger that the IYE will be dominated by industry and consumer interests originating from rich developed nations, while local people's needs and aspirations as well as community environmental rights are largely ignored. We are very dismayed at the top-down and North-biased approach in the IYE preparations, which is clearly reflected in the lack of efforts made to interact with Southern NGOs and people's organizations on issues under negotiation and to ensure their full and meaningful participation in the discussion and decision-making process. Indeed, there is the clear tendency to exclude all voices that raise fundamental questions about the ecotourism industry and could negatively impact the interests of the protagonists, who are presently spearheading the preparations for the IYE. 

Many of us have already expressed our concerns in a letter to UNEP's tourism programme coordinator Mr. Oliver Hillel (here attached). In view of the intensifying debates and the seriously growing conflict of interests around the IYE, we are writing to you today in the hope that you heed our appeal to UNEP as well as to the WTO to do the following:

·         To initiate a fundamental reassessment of the IYE in cooperation with all concerned parties, before any more preparations are made. This must include a complete re-evaluation of ecotourism issues that properly take into account the political, social, economic and developmental conditions and the serious issues of globalization in the tourism sector;

·         If there is agreement to go ahead with the IYE, to first make clear to all actors and the public, what the event is about, what it tries to achieve, and how it seeks to do so. Likewise important, precautionary measures must be put in place in advance so that countries and societies are properly equipped against abuse and backlashes.

·         To ensure transparent and democratic procedures. Since the IYE is particularly targeting developing countries, organizations and the public in the South should have adequate access to information, decision-making and justice in the IYE process. It is indispensable to listen to the voices and respect the rights of indigenous peoples, whose lands, cultures and traditional economies have been or will be most affected by ecotourism and related development schemes.

We are also conveying the points above to the WTO Chief of Environment, Mr. Eugenio Yunis.

We look forward to your support in addressing our concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Third World Network

Tourism Investigation and Monitoring Team (Thailand)

Thai Network on Tourism (TNT) (Thailand)

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia)

Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia)

World Rainforest Movement

The Akha Heritage Foundation (Thailand)

Thai Network on Community Rights and Biodiversity (Biothai) (Thailand)

Equations (Equitable Tourism Options) (India)

Africa Resources Trust (South Africa and Zimbabwe)

Zimbabwe Trust (Zimbabwe)

Global Network for Anti-Golf Course Action (GNAGA) (Japan)

Transnational Resource and Action Center/CorpWatch (USA)

Alliance for Sustainability (USA)   

Rethinking Tourism Project (RTP), (USA)

Forest Peoples Programme (UK)

Institute of Tourism & Development Studies, DeMontfort University (UK)

Friends of the Earth (Sweden)

Arbeitskreis Tourismus & Entwicklung (Switzerland)

Tourism Alert (Germany)

FernWeh (Germany)

Nina Rao, Southern co-Chair, NGO Tourism Caucus-CSD 7

Teena Amrit Gill, Journalist  (Thailand)

Mariam Mayet, environmental lawyer (South Africa)

Additional Supporters:

Institute for Sustainable Development (Ethiopia)

Norbert Suchanek, Journalist and Writer (Germany)

Cc: Oliver Hillel, Tourism Programme Coordinator, UNEP