Sustainability in Tourism: A Time to Walk the Talk
Presented at the Outlook Traveller: Responsible Tourism Summit, New Delhi
19th January 2017
Synopsis: The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has approved the adoption of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Our quest of probing tourism from the lens/ point of view of “Who Really Benefits from Tourism?” brings into the foreground certain realities, issues and concerns that makes us question - is tourism in the country actually moving towards sustainability or is sustainable tourism an oxymoron? Sustainable tourism, which has been chosen as the cornerstone to guide tourism development in the years to come is the step in the right direction. However, the concern is on how these ideas will be translated into actionable points. The fear is that in the absence of a clear understanding of what the framework, guidelines & action plan of sustainable tourism encompasses,, it then is left to be interpreted by each entity in the way they want it, to meet their interest and will continue to remain on paper unless given serious thought and delivered upon. Our concern stems from the way tourism has grown in this country, the dilution of regulatory frameworks to push tourism, the policies that are over loaded with the industry perspective of tourism development and negligible attention being given to the perspectives of local communities and looking into the wide impacts of tourism. To illustrate our point of view, we build the discussion based on two case studies that were adjudicated by the National Green Tribunal, one with respect to coastal tourism and the other hill tourism. The time is running out, unless “Sustainable Tourism” is not adopted in true spirit and practice, it is not long when even the concept of “Sustainable Development” will be up for sale.
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has approved the adoption of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The resolution, adopted on 4th December 2015, recognizes “the importance of international tourism, and particularly of the designation of an international year of sustainable tourism for development, in fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, in leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations and in bringing about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world”.
“The declaration by the UN of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai1. This decision follows the recognition by global leaders at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that “well-designed and well-managed tourism” can contribute to the three dimensions of sustainable development, to job creation and to trade.
The UNWTO defines Sustainable Tourism as 'leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems. Article 3 of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, adopted by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in 1999, further articulates practices that the tourism industry should engage in to achieve goals of Sustainable Development. Furthermore, the Agenda 21, an action plan formulated at the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development Rio de Janerio, Brazil, in June 1992 identifies tourism with the potential to play an important role in the global movement towards Sustainable Development with Chapter 28 focusing on the role of local authorities in the fruition of the objectives of Sustainable Development.
The United Nations' organisations, including the UNWTO and UNEP accepted the three-pillar (environmental, socio-cultural and economic) concept of sustainable tourism. It calls for consistency with economic as well as socio-cultural and environmental objectives and also enables tourism operations to remain competitive in the long run. While there has been discussion about inclusion and integration of a fourth dimension – that of political sustainability, it never materialised because critics argued that unlike the other pillars of sustainability, this does not relate directly to the impacts of tourism.
Our quest of probing tourism from the lens/ point of view of “Who Really Benefits from Tourism?” brings into the foreground certain realities, issues and concerns that makes us question - is tourism in the country actually moving towards sustainability or is sustainable tourism an oxymoron?