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Calling for 'responsible travel,' UN launches International Year of Ecotourism

Calling for 'responsible travel,' UN launches International Year of Ecotourism

With tourism gaining popularity around the world, the United Nations today launched the International Year of Ecotourism to raise public awareness about the pastime's effects on nature and cultural heritages and to promote the idea of responsible travel.

Speaking at a launch ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said that ecotourism was one of the fastest-growing segments in the tourism industry and had great potential for economic development.

Yet it might well have devastating consequences if not managed properly, Ms. Fréchette warned, noting that more than any other form of travel, ecotourism jeopardized the very allure of the environment. The objective must be to enjoy the planet's natural resources while preventing any negative impact.

While each country and region had its specific characteristics, the Deputy Secretary-General noted, it was still possible to agree on the key principles and guidelines for ecotourism development and management, as identified by the World Tourism Organization, the UN and other international bodies.

If properly planned, developed and managed, "ecotourism can help improve the living standards of local populations, while supporting the conservation of the natural ecosystems that are so necessary to sustain life on our planet," Mrs. Fréchette said.

The Year's main event will be the World Ecotourism Summit, to be held from 19 to 22 May in Québec City, Canada.

According to Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Summit could contribute to the goal of overcoming poverty and of changing consumption patterns by giving important input into the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held 26 August to 4 September in Johannesburg, South Africa.

While tourism was a very dynamic industry around the world, the challenge was in taking advantage of the chance for regions in developing countries to make the best use of their natural and available assets, while also protecting often very fragile ecosystems, Mr. Toepfer told a press conference at UN Headquarters. An uncontrolled influx of tourists could harm both nature and the social stability in an area, he stressed.