Asia-Pacific Countries Balancing Economic Gains of Tourism with Strong Ecological Preservation Efforts

CHIANG MAI, Thailand, May 3, 2012 - Asia Pacific countries are moving rapidly towards balancing the economic advantages of global travel & tourism with policies to manage the ecological and environmental impact of growing numbers, according to high-level presentations made at a conference organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in this northern Thai heritage city.

The conference was the first one on the subject of “Green Tourism” held by UNWTO following the issuance of a landmark Green Economy Report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

UNWTO contributed to the crafting of the tourism chapter in the ground-breaking study which advocates that greener policies can help travel & tourism enhance its socio-economic benefits while mitigating its environmental impact. Key findings of the Green Economy report were shared with the participating delegates.

Officially known as the UNWTO High-Level Regional Conference on Green Tourism, this event was held in conjunction with the 24th Joint Commission Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and the UNWTO Commission for South Asia.

Host city Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, boasts a rich cultural heritage dating back 715 years. It also hosts a popular annual horticultural festival known as the Royal Ratchaphruek, devoted to commemorating the contribution of Thailand’s King Bhumibhol Adulyadej to environmental preservation.

The conference was attended by tourism ministers, government officials, representatives of international organizations such as the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and the Tourism Promotion Organization for Asia-Pacific Cities (TPO) as well as academics, consultants and the media.

Conclusions from the event will form part of the many activities being organized by the UNWTO, other UN agencies and the OECD for a special tourism section of Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 20-22, 2012.

In his opening remarks at the conference, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai noted that travel & tourism is growing strongly worldwide. In 2011, 980 million tourist arrivals were recorded around the world, and this number is expected to cross the one-billion mark in 2012. The rapid growth and development of both international and domestic travel and tourism sectors is putting significant pressure on the supporting natural and cultural assets.

 “Undoubtedly, this growth in numbers will translate into more job opportunities, the creation of more businesses and the generation of more income. However, it will also bring in its wake or add to the existing sustainable-related challenges of the tourism industry, ¨ said Mr. Rifai.

He added, “Integrating tourism into national, regional and international legislations that encompass and encourage green economy strategies is no longer an option – it is an imperative if we are to find long-lasting solutions to the on-going, global, multi-faceted crisis.

“This calls for an integrated approach, a concerted action of the international community and the main players in the tourism industry as well as public-private cooperation. Green tourism can only succeed if it is supported by a green economy.”

In his opening remarks, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism and Sports Mr. Chumpol Silpa-archa highlighted the numerous efforts being made by his country to ensure that conservation and preservation efforts get the same emphasis as marketing as part of the tourism development process.

He said, “We promote products that show a clear commitment to sustainability, such as the Green Hotels, recognize such products through a biannual awards scheme and encourage destinations to undertake all forms of environmental and preservation activities.

“New initiatives such as the Seven Greens project and Tourism Awards are being specifically designed to ensure that the local management of the industry remains as powerful and effective as global marketing efforts,” the minister said.

According to the Tourism Chapter of the Green Economy Report, investments in greener and sustainable tourism are vital to create jobs and reduce poverty while also improving environmental outcomes.

All the country and industry presentations from the conference have been uploaded on the event website. They provide valuable insights into the extensive work being done by established destinations such as Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia, emerging destinations such as Bhutan as well as others such as Sri Lanka, which is now rapidly rebuilding its tourism sector as part of the economic recovery process.

The UNWTO also collaborates with DISCOVERYMICE and the Asia Pacific Ecotourism Society in organizing the World Ecotourism Conference. This year, the fourth such conference will be held in the Republic of Korea at the Korean International Exhibition Centre (KINTEX) from 2nd to 5th September in collaboration with Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Gyeonggi Tourism Organization and Ecotourism Korea.