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World Tourism Organization Addresses Climate Change, Poverty Issues

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BERLIN, GERMANY—The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) says that the world must respond in a holistic way to the twin challenges of climate change and poverty and that the tourism sector can effectively contribute to the solutions. UNWTO issued a statement at the opening of the ITB international tourism fair in Berlin.

“In recent years world leaders have identified a range of challenges of truly global impact with extreme poverty and climate change as the most trenchant issues,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli in his keynote speech at ITB. “They require innovative and changed behavior to effectively respond over time and tourism can and must play its part in the solutions to both. UNWTO has been actively working on these issues for some years and is committed to seek balanced and equitable policies to encourage both responsible energy-related consumption as well as anti-poverty operational patterns. This can and must lead to truly sustainable growth within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals.”

“World tourism has entered into a historically new phase of growth, which began three years ago,” Frangialli added. “In 2005, it broke through the barrier of 800 million international arrivals. Last year, it reached 842 million. This new phase is characterized by a more solid and more responsible type of growth.”

Tourism’s Influence on Poverty

The geographical expansion and labor-intensive nature of the tourism sector provide a spread of employment which is particularly relevant in remote and rural areas where many of the poor live. Poverty alleviation has become an essential condition for peace, environmental conservation and sustainable development, besides being an ethical obligation in an affluent world, where the divide between poor and rich nations seems to have increased in recent years.

UNWTO statistics show the growing strength of the tourism industry for developing countries:

• International tourism receipts for developing countries (low income, lower and upper middle income countries) will soon pass more than $250 billion.

• Tourism is one of the major export sectors of poor countries and a leading source of foreign exchange in 46 of the 49 least developed countries.

Through its ST-EP program (Sustainable Tourism—Eliminating Poverty), UNWTO has put in place a framework for poverty alleviation, linking its longstanding pursuit of sustainable tourism with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and its own Global Code of Ethics.

Funding has been approved for 13 ST-EP projects so far, amounting to around $1 million, benefiting 18 countries. In parallel, 25 ST-EP projects are being implemented by UNWTO with funding from the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) for a total of around EUR 1.2 million. Italy is funding eight ST-EP projects and funding has been approved for additional projects during 2007.

Tourism’s Contribution to Climate Change

Favorable climatic conditions at destinations are key attractions for tourists, especially in beach destinations, which are still the dominating form of tourism. Mountain tourism or winter sports are also highly dependent on specific climate and weather conditions. In general, for all forms of tourism activities taking place outdoors, accurate climate and weather information is key for the planning and carrying out of trips and programs. Climate can impact on a wide range of other basic resources of tourism, such as availability and quality of freshwater supply.

Inadequate climate conditions can seriously harm tourism operations and host communities that depend on them. Directly, climate variability and changing weather patterns can affect the planning of tourism programs and seriously affect the tourists’ comfort, their travel decisions, and eventually the tourists’ flow. Indirectly, climate change can have a significant impact on tourism activities by altering the natural environment that represents both a key attraction and a basic resource for tourism.

At the same time, transport, which is at the heart of travel and tourism, is an evident challenge—not only the high profile air transport with its direct interrelationship to greenhouse gases, but also road and rail transport which are major factors in intraregional and domestic tourism, but also cruises which are one of the fastest growing areas of the sector.

But climate change also brings some opportunities, and it can induce the restructuring of both tourism demand and supply patterns. For example, extremely hot temperatures in the main season of seaside tourism destinations might reduce the tourists’ motivation to travel, but it can increase visitations in shoulder seasons, or in warmer winter periods; it can also divert tourists to more in-land and higher altitude coastal areas with cooler temperatures. Summer seasons in mountain regions, meanwhile, could lengthen, and generate increased demand, although this could bring further negative environmental consequences.

Whatever the environmental outcome, tourism cannot be seen in isolation. Major changes in the pattern of demand will lead to wider impacts on many areas of economic and social policy—such as in employment and labor demand and in regional policy issues such as housing, transport and social infrastructure.

In recognizing the high dependence of tourism activities on climate conditions, and the high vulnerability of many destinations to climate change impacts, UNWTO made an important initial step to address the complex relations between climate change and tourism by convening the First International Conference on Climate Change & Tourism in 2003 in Djerba (Tunisia). The conference brought together delegates from 53 countries, drawn from the scientific community, various U.N. agencies, the tourism industry, NGOs, national tourism administrations and environment departments, as well as local governments. The main outcome was the Djerba Declaration on Climate Change and Tourism—a basic framework for further action by stakeholder groups.

The Path Ahead

This year, to further develop awareness and improve the understanding of this complex relationship, UNWTO is convening two conferences to follow up on Djerba in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program—with whom it is working closely on all these issues.

• The first will be a Global Summit in Davos (Switzerland) at the beginning of October, and will convene senior experts from tourism and environment ministries, academic institutions and researchers, for a high-level technical debate and the search of possible courses of action.

• The outcome of this first event will be submitted to a Ministerial Conference in London, on November 13 and to be held with the U.K. government in the context of World Travel Market, for recommending policy decisions in this field.

Go to UNWTO.

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