Commonwealth forum stresses sustainable tourism at World Travel Market

16 November 2011

What is the role of government in making tourism more sustainable? Why should communities living near a game reserve not hunt down animals for food? Or why should they keep the forests as homes for animals instead of clearing them to increase arable land? These were among the many issues arising during a panel discussion organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat at the recently concluded World Travel Market in London on 8 November 2011.

The panel discussion was held as part of the events to mark World Responsible Tourism Day.

Participants heard about innovative initiatives that different communities from across the Commonwealth are employing to ensure that the challenge of balancing development needs and preserving the natural habitats for the world’s ecosystems are maintained. A main thread that resonated throughout the discussion was the importance of practically demonstrating to communities the benefits of preserving nature while developing the tourism sector. In other words, the business case for sustainable practices in tourism management should be made.

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith, who chaired the session, noted that the objectives of sustainable development endorsed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002 also applied to tourism. The basic principle in sustainable practice is that in our attempt to use resources today, we should do so in a manner that does not jeopardise the needs of the future generation.

“We need to attain a balance between economic, environment, social and cultural goals,” said Mr Smith.

He added: “The pillars of sustainable tourism call for maximising economic benefits while safeguarding the environment, and attaining social justice while preserving local cultural values.”

The Deputy Secretary-General explained that for a number of Commonwealth countries, particularly the small states, tourism is a mainstay of their economies, and that as such ensuring sustainable practice is critical. He said that the Commonwealth provides technical assistance to member countries to develop marketing, product development and human resources strategies for their tourism sector.

St Kitts and Nevis Minister of Tourism, Richard Skerrit, stated that governments need to put in place policies that promote sustainable tourism practices and to market these in a way that makes business sense to the people.

“People want to pursue sustainable development in tourism, but sometimes when they are told what it takes, they get turned off. We have to communicate better,” Mr Skerrit, who is also the chairperson of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, said.

U V Jose, the Director of Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies in India, demonstrated an initiative that his institution undertook to create community ownership of tourism activities in specific locations across the state. He said that a key outcome of the initiative was promotion of procurement of fruits and vegetables by hotels and resorts from local communities, which has benefited the local community by £60,000 over the last two years.