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Issue 4, April - May 1999

Newsletter Index

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Sustainable Tourism

Tourism has always been seen in an ambivalent light. Its proponents argue that the industry brings with it enormous economic benefits for host countries, while its detractors constantly allude to its large environmental and social costs. Tourism is certainly an important industry though, being the largest creator of jobs across national and regional economies. According to WTTC/WEFA research, travel and tourism will by the year 2000 directly and indirectly generate 11,7% of GDP and nearly 200 million jobs in the worldwide economy. These figures are forecast to grow to 11.7 % and 255 million respectively by the year 2010.
It’s therefore clear that this mass movement of people around the world is on the increase with consequently vast social and economic ramifications for host countries and communities. Even though the majority of this tourism occurs between the nations of the industrialised world, it is in fact in the developing world where the greatest expansion is currently taking place. In many of these developing countries tourism is also often found to be their primary industry. The issue of tourism and the manner in which it can contribute towards these countries’ sustainable development is therefore of paramount importance.
The Growth of Tourism in the Developing World
It was largely in the 1970s and 1980s that tourism first came to be adopted by the developing world as a viable means of fostering economic development. These countries saw tourism as a convenient panacea for their high unemployment and acute foreign exchange needs. Some experts at the time even argued that tourism would be able to advance a developing country’s economy from being primary sector-based to one based on an expanding service sector, omitting in the process the intermediary industrial phase of economic growth.

It soon became clear, however, that tourism was not capable of living up to these high expectations. The skills shortage in these countries led many of them becoming dependent on foreign workers to fill the managerial positions in the tourism industry, with their repatriation of profits contributing to the tourism sector’s massive foreign exchange leakage. The centralised purchasing procedures of the larger hotel chains and the need to keep up with international standards necessitated the importation of foreign products such as liquor, food and hotel equipment, further contributing to this outflow of foreign exchange from developing countries. Finally, the nature of the inclusive tour, whereby payment for airfares, accommodation, food and services is made in advance, also meant that much foreign exchange didn’t even reach the host country in the first place.
In terms of the second perceived benefit, namely employment generation, it became evident that the local jobs that were created by tourism were one’s limited to low-level positions, such as waiters, receptionists and room cleaners. Ironically, it is in fact precisely tourism’s relatively labour intensive nature that also makes its labour input most vulnerable to minimisation when owners seek to reduce their costs. This has created the deleterious situation whereby employment in this sector is now usually casual, part time and under labour award rates.
Besides the mitigation in its economic benefits, tourism also began to reveal its costs in terms of the effects that it had on the environment and local culture. Tourism generally produces adverse environmental impacts through both the high consumption habits of tourists, as well as their concomitant generation of pollution and waste. In instances where there was no proper planning or management, tourism development created strong competition for the use of land between tourism and other competing uses, leading to rising prices for building land and increasing pressure to build on agricultural land. In the coastal areas, development for tourism sometimes involved sand mining that in turn led to the degradation of the beach and an increase in sand erosion.
In terms of the activities and consumption patterns of tourists, it became clear that sports like scuba diving and sport fishing often led to coral reefs being destroyed with subsequent impacts on coastal protection and fisheries. The boom in Eco-tourism, if not properly managed, could also now pose a threat to the world’s most ecologically fragile areas. On the consumption side, the tourism industry has always been noted as an intensive user of local resources such as energy, food, water and other raw materials that are usually in short supply in developing countries. Freshwater is particularly worrying in this regard as tourists are extremely intensive users, and as the industry expands globally, the problem of freshwater supply is only likely to worsen.

On the other side of the coin is the problem caused by the pollution of freshwater resources due to tourists’ effluent being disposed of into the surrounding areas of land and sea. This has become particularly acute in parts of the Caribbean, where the growing number of tourist cruise ships has generated increasing volumes of liquid and solid wastes for disposal at their ports of call. Lastly, energy use in tourism-related transportation, air-conditioning and heating of tourism facilities has increased COČ emissions and heightened air pollution at both the local and global levels.
Socially, the costs of tourism came to be seen through the social demonstration effect where local residents began to imitate what foreign visitors do, wear and eat. Problems like drug abuse; child labour and prostitution often came to be associated with tourism. Anthropologists also started to refer to the commoditisation effect of tourism, whereby the local culture is transformed from being a personal cultural display of living traditions into a cultural product that is intended to only serve the needs of commercial tourists.
The Other Side of Tourism
It should be understood, however, that such is the nature of tourism that there is a flip side to all of these negative effects. Environmentally for instance, the tourist industry itself has a very strong motivating factor to protect the environment, in that its very viability as an industry depends on the natural environment as a basic resource. Through its financial contributions, provisions of environmental infrastructure and improved environmental management, the tourist industry may therefore in fact end up protecting and rehabilitating a country’s natural assets. More importantly, tourism can also give local communities a sense of the financial and intrinsic value of their natural and cultural sites, thereby giving them an incentive to protect them. This has been positively demonstrated by the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) Project in Zimbabwe and the Administrative Management Design for Game Management Area (ADMADE) Project in Zambia. In both these projects tourism was used to generate environmentally sustainable practices by providing local communities with financial benefits and incentives to conduct anti-poaching activities.

In the cultural realm, anthropologists have also revised their earlier position, with some now claiming that rituals that used to be affirmations of a culture’s religious belief, can under tourism become a culturally significant self-representation before an outside audience.
Future Challenges
It seems clear then that tourism is an extremely complex phenomenon, necessitating analysts looking for new research models that go beyond the simple cost-benefit ones. It’s important that one seeks to understand the multitude of stakeholders involved in this enterprise, and how their interrelationships can alter the overall effects of tourism. The tourism industry for instance, is very much driven by the needs and desires of tourists. This point was succinctly expressed by the World Travel and Tourism Organisation (WTTO) and International Hotel and Restaurant Association (IHRA) in their background paper "The Global Importance of Tourism" when they stated, "if consumers do not understand or are not aware of the issues involved and do not demand more sustainable products then, in the long term, it will not be in the industry’s interests to move in that direction."
In this vein, the results of the latest survey designed to ascertain public attitudes in the United Kingdom towards the environment could be seen as particularly worrying. This survey found that the public’s sensitivity to environmental problems on holiday/business trips has not increased and is now no more of a deterrent to repeat travel than it was previously. It also recorded a downward trend in the public’s willingness to pay extra for environmental protection and environmentally friendly products, including "green" Travel and Tourism.

The real challenge therefore lies in persuading consumers that it is in their interests to adopt and promote a sustainable approach to their purchasing decisions. The responsibility for this lies primarily with the industry and non-governmental organisations, some of whom have already made significant steps in this regard. Educating tourists is only the first step though, as they will then also have to be supplied with the necessary information for them to make informed choices. It is here that "ecolabels" and award programmes have value in the tourist industry. The "Green Globe" project started by WTTC in 1994 is a particularly good initiative in this regard, whereby guidance material and a certification process linked to ISO standards and Agenda 21 principles is provided to members. "Green Globe" currently has 500 members in 100 countries. According to the WTTC it is envisaged "that Green Globe will become the primary global standard of environmental commitment by the global Travel and Tourism industry and will be recognised by the public as such."
On the side of national governments, it is clear that the right regulatory framework needs to be put in place for tourism to effectively contribute to sustainable development. In the past, governments have often waited until loss of revenue and cultural and environmental degradation has occurred before instituting the requisite action. It is clear that policy must now shift from being one of closing the stable gate after the horse has bolted to anticipating the problems before-hand and seeking to institute the necessary checks and balances. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Council report on "Tourism and Sustainable Development", governments need to raise awareness, build capacity and promote effective action for sustainable tourism. This requires to:
- Improve the understanding of the benefits and burdens of tourism in environmental, social and economic terms;
- Strengthen capacity for the management and control of tourism in their sphere of responsibility;
- Provide support through pilot projects and capacity development programmes, including capacity development at local government level;
- Ensure the participation of all stakeholders affected by or involved in tourism and its development;
- Ensure that tourism makes a positive contribution to economic development and that the economic benefits are equitably shared;
- Encourage and catalyse industry initiatives for sustainable tourism across all sectors of the tourism industry;
- Promote changes in consumer behaviour in both tourist originating countries and destinations towards more sustainable forms of tourism.
With all forecasts predicting a steady growth in the already large tourism industry, it seems clear that the challenge for developing countries is one of learning to harness the enormous potential benefits of this sector. Tourism is a multifaceted enterprise, however, and in seeking to unlock its potential one needs to set up structures that see constant dialogue occurring between all its various actors. It is only through this form of dialogue, that tourism’s negative effects can be reduced and its contribution to sustainable development enhanced.
Lance Greyling
Programme Manager
GLOBE Southern Africa
csd.gif (430 bytes)    The Commission on Sustainable Development
The seventh session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-7) took place in New York at the UN Headquarters from 19 to 30 April 1999. The High-Level Segment was attended by 89 ministers and high ranking government officials.
The mission of the CSD is to ensure effective follow-up of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, Rio, 1992), to enhance international and intergovernmental cooperation on sustainable development and to examine progress made in implementing Agenda 21. This year, the Commission addressed the following issues: sustainable tourism, energy, consumption and production patterns as well as oceans and seas. The 7th session also served as a preparatory meeting for the UN Special Session on Small Islands Developing States (SIDS).
On Sustainable Tourism, sex-tourism was de-linked from other tourism issues, since it might, according to several developing countries, sensationalise the issue and bring bad publicity to some countries. Delegates also found it premature to establish a global code of ethics since there were different views regarding the nature and scope of sustainable tourism guidelines and the timing of their implementation.
In its decision on tourism, the Commission urged governments "to consult and work in partnership with all major groups, local and indigenous communities to facilitate their active participation at all levels of the tourism development process; to promote a favorable framework for small and medium-sized enterprises in recognition of the employment potential of sustainable tourism; and to maximise the potential of tourism for eradicating poverty". Delegates present at the CSD also recommended that the tourism industry should: "develop environmentally, socially and culturally compatible forms of tourism; continue the development and implementation of voluntary initiatives; take effective steps to reduce the volume of waste associated with travel and tourism activities; provide information to tourists on ecological and cultural values in destination regions; and distance itself publicly from illegal, abusive or exploitative forms of tourism".
The decision on Consumption and Production patterns reiterated the need to change the present wasteful patterns and called upon developed nations to take the lead in this regard. However, some developed countries stated that sustainable production and consumption patterns should be pursued by all countries and the European Union drew attention to the unsustainable patterns of the richer segments of the population in all countries. Norway pointed out that there were benefits for the poor in striving for more efficient consumption patterns whatever the country. The EU also called for an increase of Official Development Aid (ODA), while developing countries insisted that the debt burden needed to be reduced in order to eradicate poverty.
The decision of the Commission urged the different actors to promote eco-efficiency and cleaner production, internalise environmental costs and benefits in pricing, increase environmental education and awareness, improve information on environmental impacts, promote the transfer of environmentally-friendly technologies and best practices, as well as advertise and promote the potential of eco-efficiency for cost reduction and competitiveness.
On Oceans and Seas the Commission noted that they are vital in providing resources, ensuring economic prosperity and food security and play an important role in eradicating poverty. The CSD also recommended that priority should be given to the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, the prevention of pollution from land-based activities, the scientific understanding of oceans and seas and that the implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) and Agenda 21 be encouraged.
During their debates, delegates failed to reach agreement on several issues. Among these was the right of Small Island Developing States to regulate, restrict and/or ban the importation of products containing hazardous substances and to prohibit the transboundary movement of hazardous and radioactive wastes and materials within their jurisdiction, consistent with international law.
Energy will be one of the main themes addressed by the 9th Session of the CSD in 2001. This year, delegates present in New York decided to provide for the establishment of an Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Energy and Sustainable Development. This Group will meet ahead of CSD-9 and contribute to the Commission’s work on energy.
Finally, some of the NGOs and delegations present at this year’s session felt that early attention should be given to the preparation of the Earth Summit 3, which will take place in the year 2002 and review the implementation of Agenda 21 since the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
For further information on the outcome of the CSD-7, please contact the GLOBE Office in Cape Town or access the CSD website at: http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/