Year of Reviewing Ecotourism
His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan
United Nations Bldg., Room 3800
New York 10017, USA
Mr. Secretary General,
The UN proclamation of 2002 as International Year of Ecotourism (IYE)
has created a major debate because of the growing awareness that the ecotourism
industry is not as benign as initially believed. Although empirical research
is still lacking, it can be concluded from the many case studies conducted
around the world that ecotourism generally falls short of the ideal system
inherent in the principles it promotes, for example, in terms of conservation
of nature and cultures, education, material benefits to resident people
and local participation.
So warning voices have become louder that the IYE will open a Pandora’s
box. There are grave concerns that the event will result in misconceived
and inflationary ecotourism - or more correctly ‘mass nature tourism’
- policies and programmes that inevitably exacerbate problems, such as
the degradation of ecosystems, loss of biological and cultural diversity,
disruption of local economies, displacement and dispossession, and resistance
from community and indigenous peoples’ groups.
Consequently, a coalition of NGOs and citizens from the South and the
North has urged the organizing agencies, the World Tourism Organization
(WTO) and UNEP, to initiate a fundamental reassessment of the IYE in collaboration
with all concerned parties, particularly affected communities and grassroots
initiatives. We attach here for your attention the letter to UNEP’s tourism
programme coordinator. Other related documents are available at the Third
World Network’s website: www.twnside.org.sg/title/iye.htm.
In a recently released announcement of the IYE (www.world-tourism.org/omt/ecotourism2002.htm),
WTO and UNEP have acknowledged that there is “little consensus” about
the meaning of ecotourism, and a number of “concerns still need to be
wholly addressed”. The agencies have also recognized the need to avoid
ecotourism’s “past shortcomings and negative impacts” and that “there
has not been so far a truly comprehensive effort to allow the various
stakeholders to voice their views”.
We believe that this is an admission that fundamental preconditions are
missing to ensure that the IYE, as presently anticipated, will have the
leverage to face up to the expectations it raises.
As it stands, WTO and UNEP’s call for a ‘celebration’ of the IYE and for
increased promotion and marketing of ecotourism destinations and products
is very untimely and controversial. Without a more organized, reasonable
and creative approach, the IYE risks becoming a non-starter, unresponsive
to people’s concerns and incapable to rally public trust and support.
Therefore, Mr. Secretary General, we now appeal to you and the UN to immediately
make provision to re-focus the programme and change the name ‘International
Year of Ecotourism’ into INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF REVIEWING ECOTOURISM.
We believe that the new and clearer focus of the Year is not only the
best way out of the dilemma, it also serves as a precaution against possible
misunderstandings and risks, and offers a unique opportunity to forge
ahead new paths to tackle the challenges posed by tourism, development
and the environment.
The new name will convey an unmistakable message to the international
community that the Year 2002 is not the time for celebrating the ecotourism
industry, but is primarily meant as a period of reflection, stock taking,
learning and intensive search for solutions to the various problems associated
This way, the Year will also be less susceptible to abuse by profiteers
and privileged minority groups, who may seek to exploit this UN programme
for self-serving purposes. The re-focused programme should signal
that it prioritizes genuine people’s concerns, such as ecological protection,
economic equity, social justice and human rights, over narrow commercial
Undoubtedly, an International Year of Reviewing Ecotourism campaign will
also fit more aptly into the Earth Summit 2002 agenda, which will include
a review of the outcome of Rio+10 and strategy discussions for sustainable
development, including sustainable tourism, for the next decade.
As a practical step, we propose that the UN immediately establishes an
International Commission on Ecotourism as the central component of the
Year programme. This must be an open and independent forum - involving
representatives from governments, community and indigenous groups, NGOs,
the private sector, academia and other concerned actors. This Commission
can take on the task during 2001 and 2002 to produce a holistic and impartial
review of the performance of ecotourism development and its multi-faceted
impacts on local people and the environment. The Commission should honestly
strive to improve risk assessments aimed at identifying and removing the
sources of tourism-induced problems and conflicts. The complete findings
should be made public by the end of 2002 and serve as an effective tool
for awareness raising, education and policy change beyond the Year.
We believe it is more appropriate to organize a ‘World Ecotourism Summit’
(presently planned as the IYE main event from 19-21 May 2002 in Quebec,
Canada) after the Commission has presented its comprehensive report because
delegates will have a more solid information base for discussion.
We also propose to dedicate the World Tourism Day on 27 September 2002
to the subject of Reviewing Ecotourism, instead of just Ecotourism as
planned by the IYE organizers.
Mr. Secretary General, time is short, but long enough to do the necessary
groundwork and set up open and transparent processes of discussion with
the expertise from all actors, so that the International Year of Rethinking
Ecotourism 2002 can be made a real success.
We as NGOs pledge our active support for the re-focused and renamed programme
under the auspices of the UN and will encourage other organizations and
movements of civil society to get engaged and make constructive contributions
We look forward to your support in realizing our proposal.
of the coordinating groups:
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team
Sahabat Alam Malaysia
Consumers Association of Penang
Cc: Euginio Yunis, Chief of Section, Sustainable Development
of Tourism, WTO
Klaus Toepfer, Executive
Oliver Hillel, Tourism
Programme Coordinator, UNEP
Investigation & Monitoring Team
P.O. Box 51 Chorakhebua
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