The world’s fragile wetlands can be protected by sustainable tourism, but not without certain risks, said the head of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the UN agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism.
“Tourism in wetlands, when properly managed and developed, plays a major part in supporting those working in and around wetlands, through job and income creation,” Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of UNWTO, told MediaGlobal.
“The challenge is to ensure that sustainable tourism practices are being implemented and bring benefits for wetlands, their wildlife and people…tourism businesses, if well informed and prepared to adapt their operations, can certainly promote and support wetland biodiversity and the natural beauty of wetlands.”
UNWTO marked World Wetlands Day on 2 February, joining forces with the Ramsar Convention to promote responsible tourism and recreation in wetlands from the Great Barrier Reef to the Danube Delta.
The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It is the only global environmental treaty, adopted in 1971, that deals with a particular ecosystem.
“This has been an excellent opportunity for the Ramsar Convention to take advantage of UNWTO’s expertise in the sustainable management of tourism, and we appreciate the added value they have brought to our World Wetlands Day activities promoting the wise use of wetlands,” said Anada Tiéga, Ramsar’s secretary general.
Tourism is growing and diversifying, becoming one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. It is closely linked to development and includes more new destinations. These dynamics have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-economic progress. Tourism has become a cornerstone in international commerce, and is a main income sources for many developing countries.
“The attention for the role of wetlands for tourism illustrates the importance of these water rich areas for mankind,” Alex Kaat, manager of advocacy for Wetlands International, told MediaGlobal.
“It is a matter of fact that the world lakes, rivers and beaches are the key areas for tourism,” Kaat continues. “Tourism is just one of the values, next to water regulation, flood control, or climate mitigation. It remains a challenge to communicate the message that wetlands are not just nice for nature, but key for our well-being.”
Wetlands can benefit directly from tourism through entry fees, sale of local products, public relations efforts and more. However, there is a risk that comes with promoting wetlands as tourism locations. The challenge is to ensure that sustainable tourism practices, known as “wise use” practices, are being implemented, and that is where UNWTO and Ramsar come in.
“Every year, millions of tourists fulfill their longing to see and experience the wonders of nature in the wetlands,” Rifai said. “Celebrating World Wetlands Day…offers the perfect occasion to recall the relevance of this unique natural scenery as one of tourism’s greatest assets, while stressing how tourism, when developed and managed in a sustainable way, can be instrumental in safeguarding it.”
The “wise use” of wetlands is defined as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development,” as defined by the Ramsar Convention.
The focus on wetland tourism will continue at the 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP11) in Romania during the month of July. The theme will be “Wetlands, Tourism and Recreation.”
COP11 will debate a resolution to provide a formal framework for governments, NGOs and civil society for achieving wetlands sustainability. There will also be the launching of a case study-based report on tourism in and around Ramsar sites, looking at the direct and indirect impacts of tourism, while identifying opportunities and the threats that wetland tourism can bring.
Also coming up this autumn is the UN’s World Tourism Day 2012. Held 27 September every year, the commemoration aims to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic values.
Many tourism organizations, government agencies, and groups with a special interest in tourism celebrate the day with various special events and festivities.