Sunday, October 24, 2010

Attract 'better' tourists

The Pacific Voyage Media Team, 25 October 2010 Nagoya Japan

Samoa and other Pacific countries should be encouraged to attract “better” tourists to help biodiversity conservation, a senior Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) official said.

Oliver Hillel, Programme Officer for Sustainable Use, Tourism and Island Biodiversity, said there is some validity to claims tourism harms biodiversity.

“Historically speaking, tourism has had mixed reviews,” he said.

“There are cases in which tourism was extremely destructive. All you need to see is an aerial picture of Cancun in 1960 and compare it to what it looks like today.”

Mr Hillel was speaking during a side event at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the CBD at the Nagoya Congress Centre, Nagoya, Japan. The meeting has been described as the most important meeting on biodiversity in the history of the United Nations.

Some 16,000 participants from all over the world are negotiating ways to address the loss of biodiversity that’s been seriously compounded by global warming.

“What I would say to Samoa, which of course is very dear to us because we work with SPREP (Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme), and we have many, many projects in Samoa, I would say it’s not a question of more but a question of better tourists,” said Mr Hillel.

“Tourists who want to stay more, who are more respectful, who understand that the host is the one that defines the tourism product. In general, I would say Samoa should try to attract better tourists.” 

Tourism behaviour is universal and that sometimes threatens nature conservation.

“Tourists want to go to the most beautiful places,” Mr Hillel pointed out.

“They don’t want to go to places that are not beautiful. So therefore the potential for risk of destruction is doubled because they go straight to the most beautiful and biodiversity places where they can see the rare animals so that the potential and the risk are very great.”

Changes, however, are starting to emerge.

“In my professional life as a tourism practitioner, I’ve seen and I think Samoa you must have seen many of them as well, they’re excellent examples of islands who are well kept with a small lodge on 10 percent of the area and with the resources this provides can protect the whole area, have rangers and community involvement.

“There are many community based tourism initiatives that really benefit indigenous and local communities that are conserving and that in a growingly financial economy cannot cope without receiving additional resources from tourism.

“Lately, the tourism industry is beginning to realise that the tourism industry has a problem because its very complex. The moment you point the finger to the tourism industry, they all run out of this. They say all I’m not tourism I’m travel.

“It’s a difficult industry to deal with but it’s changing.”

Mr Hillel said the CBD Secretariat is looking into ideas to promote nature conservation and tourism.
“We have an indigenous tourism website award,” he said. “We are working with leading indigenous tour operators of the world.

“In the last ten years, we’ve seen more and more of the indigenous community decide on their own terms, in their own means of production to engage in tourism and that’s the best assurance we have that they are not only biodiversity but also cultural diversity is valued.”

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