- The extensive worldwide tourism industry, estimated to have generated $4.4 trillion in economic activity in 1998, can either wreak environmental devastation or be a powerful tool for nature conservation, according to a new report by Conservation International (CI).
The Green Host Effect - An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Tourism and Resort Development offers detailed steps necessary for the tourism industry to help protect natural resources as well as provide secure livelihoods for local people. The report takes a hard look at tourism's toll on some of the world's most biologically-rich ecosystems. It also provides some positive examples, and offers innovative ways the tourism industry can contribute to environmental protection and community development.
"Ecotourism has become a real buzzword in the 1990s. But the phrase refers mainly to small-scale, nature-based adventures. However, even the largest resorts can have good environmental and social practices, " said Jamie Sweeting, manager of CI's Ecotourism Program and one of the report's authors. "Our goal is to transform all tourism that relies on nature into a truly positive force to help protect natural areas."
The report focuses on tropical regions that harbor the richest concentrations of plant and animal life and also represent some of the fastest growing tourism areas in the world. Examples of tourism gone awry in exotic locales include Pattaya, Thailand and Cancun, Mexico. As recently as 1990, not one of Pattaya's 22,000 hotel rooms along the beach was attached to a sewage plant, and the sea along the coast was coated with a film of raw sewage. As of 1996, only 60 percent of the city's sewage was processed.
In Cancun, only 12 families inhabited the 14-mile island as recently as the 1970s. Today, Cancun receives more than 2.6 million visitors a year, and has more than 20,000 hotel rooms, with a permanent population of more than 300,000. In the nearby shanty towns that house local workers, sewage from 75 percent of the population is untreated. Due to extensive habitat loss and pollution, many bird, marine and other animal species have vanished.
Tourism's impact on local people is also highlighted in the report: "In several countries, governments have directly evicted people in order to use their lands for tourism. In Kenya, the government evicted the Maasai from many of their traditional herding lands to make way for wildlife tourists. In Myanmar, the ruling military junta gave the 52,000 residents of Pagan two weeks to leave their homes after deciding to use the ancient pagodas around which they lived as a tourist attraction."
The report outlines 12 recommendations for industry, government, environmental, and community groups, and others to reduce negative impacts and increase tourism's overall positive contribution to conservation and local well-being.
"We aimed to create a practical blueprint, and to do so we looked at many lessons already learned by each of the stakeholders," said Amy Rosenfeld, CI Policy Program manager and report co-author. "For everyone involved, making tourism a factor in protecting the environment rather than destroying it simply makes good business sense. After all, nature is what people want to enjoy. If it's in ruins, business will suffer."
Among the report's recommendations are the use of economic and financial tools to promote responsible tourism. These can include traditional strategies such as taxes, subsidies and entrance fees, as well as more innovative approaches such as performance bonds, trust funds and offsets. It also emphasizes minimizing negative impacts of tourism activities on local ecosystems and cultures. To do this, resorts and tour operators can involve guests directly in environmental and social initiatives. One example the report cites is a German company that brings charter tours to the Maldives. The company adopted a program that requires tourists to take their garbage back to Germany with them.