Global perspective Human stories

Sustainable tourism must respect local cultures, UN agency says

Sustainable tourism must respect local cultures, UN agency says

Sustainable tourism in built-up areas must ensure a better urban environment for both residents and tourists, respect cultural diversity and guide observers in interpreting the distinctive building types in different destinations, according to a declaration from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO).

The Muscat Declaration on Built Environments for Sustainable Tourism (BEST), approved at a conference in Oman earlier this month, noted the "positive role that tourism can potentially play in the preservation and conservation of natural and cultural heritage" and it called on Governments, tourism authorities and the private sector to make sure that tourism had a positive impact on constructed areas.

The conference of more than 200 government officials, tourism professionals, urban planners, architects and cultural site managers from 35 countries was sponsored earlier this month by the WTO and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

"Tourism, if developed in a responsible, balanced and sustainable manner, can become a driving force for environmental protection, heritage conservation and cultural pride," World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli told the conference.

"Unplanned development, as we have seen too often in the past, means chaos and depletion of the fragile resources on which our industry relies," he added.

The declaration called for transparent, equitable and democratic planning and said builders of "ecological lodges" should use sustainable construction techniques, renewable sources of energy and local materials.

Governments and the private sector should use "successful experiences available around the world to foster the adaptive re-use of heritage buildings, monuments and ensembles for tourism purposes in a way that protects, enhances and respects the values carried by this heritage."

They should ensure that the sustainability of both the heritage and its new functions are properly addressed, and avoid transforming the heritage into an object of visits with only limited economic impact on its surroundings.