2002: International Year of Reviewing  Ecotourism

His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan
Secretary General
United Nations Bldg., Room 3800
New York 10017, USA
Fax: (+1-212)-9633826

18 January 2001

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:

In a recently released announcement of the IYE (, 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 with ecotourism. 

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 ecotourism interests.

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 as well.

We look forward to your support in realizing our proposal.

Yours sincerely,

Chee Yoke Ling
Anita Pleumarom
Meenakshi Raman

On behalf of the coordinating groups:

Third World Network
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 Director, UNEP
        Oliver Hillel, Tourism Programme Coordinator, UNEP

Enclosure (4 pages)

Please reply to:

Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team
P.O. Box 51 Chorakhebua
Bangkok 10230
Fax: (66-2)-519.2821