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Geneva Seminar on International Sustainable Development Policy and Tourism

26 Nov 2002

A Seminar on International Sustainable Development Policy and Tourism was held on Monday 25 November 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. It brought together much of the findings of UNRISD research in the area of tourism conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Seminar was organized by Institute jointly with the Geneva-based organization Europe-China Management Improvement Foundation (ECMI), presided by Professor Paolo Urio, former Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences of the University of Geneva.

The 30 participants represented mostly the West-Central Qingshai province of China, with one representative from Hainan. They included senior representatives of the local government, heads of city and provincial tourism bureaus, university professors and academics, environmental specialists and lawyers as well as professional trainers.

The panel consisted of Krishna Ghimire, UNRISD Research Coordinator, who made a presentation on "Sustainable Development and Tourism: What Is New?"; Nicolas Bovay, UNRISD Information Officer, who presented a paper titled "Tourism, Ethics and Human Rights"; Behzod Mingboev, UNRISD Research Assistant, who spoke about "The Development of Tourism in Countries in Transition: The Case of the ex-Soviet-Union", and Li Zhaodong, correspondent in Geneva for the Guangming Daily, one of China's largest daily newspapers.

Krishna Ghimire, who moderated the seminar, made a presentation highlighting the linkages between sustainable development and tourism planning. He first presented a comparative analysis of tourism issues in Europe and developing countries which indicated many similarities in the evolution of lifestyles and rapid expansion in movements of people. However, he said that many negative impacts of tourism were especially felt in the developing world. He then went on to discuss the context in which the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was organized and where, for the first time ever, tourism issues were included on the agenda in a major UN summit. Regrettably, however, the Summit merely called for increased investments in the tourism sector. In conclusion, Mr. Ghimire said that investment in small-scale community tourism projects should receive priority if tourism were to be used as a tool for poverty eradication. Tourism should be developed in an integrated manner with other sectors of livelihood provisioning so that local communities are not made helplessly dependent on tourism. In order to reduce vulnerability related to international tourism, developing countries should also explore the possibility of promoting national and regional tourism. He summed up by stating that the recent World Trade Organization’s scheme to liberalize the service sector in tourism was especially unwelcome for developing countries as their tourism earnings are heavily derived from the service sector.

Nicolas Bovay pointed at the fact that tourism had an uneasy relationship with human rights and ecology. He recalled that human categories most at risk were children, indigenous peoples, women and local communities, and said that tourism, and particularly sex tourism, had led to violations of a number of existing international human rights standards and norms, including labour conventions and the concept of decent work. He said that although present efforts to combat paedophilia in the context of tourism at the international and domestic levels were commendable, much more remained to be done in legal and policy terms. He also said that the development of tourism had led to ongoing violations of economic, social and cultural rights of the local communities in which it was taking place as well as the destruction of the local ecosystem and their peoples' ancestral ways of life. He went on to say that sustainable tourism would only succeed if it involves tourism workers that have a stake in it, and that means that they should be much more democratically involved at work. Workers needed livable salaries and better training in the environment if the industry was to have a beneficial impact on their local communities. He concluded by stating that if tourism wanted to survive as an industry it should not harm the local cultures and landmarks which are exactly what attract tourists in the very first place.

Behzod Mingboev stated that although all the countries of the former USSR were trying to develop their tourism industries, many factors limited their success. He recalled that many of the countries concerned lacked political stability and security and were economically and socially volatile. He also pointed at the fact that local touristic infrastructures, when they existed, were often well below international standards. In the case of Belarus there had even been a sharp decrease in the number of visitors due to the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Other forms of pollution, including the dumping of nuclear and industrial waste had taken a heavy toll on the environment. On a more positive tone, Mr. Mingboev said that the citizens of the newly independent states were now free to travel abroad and that the experiences and ideas that they gained abroad were proving useful to the nascence of a political culture in the post-Soviet geographical space.

Li Zhaodong made a presentation on the development of the tourism industry in Europe and particularly in Switzerland and its historical relevance to developing nations. In his presentation on the new phenomenon of outbound Chinese tourists he said that the new situation presented formidable opportunities for learning from past experiences of developed nations.

The presentations were followed by a lively debate. Professor Paolo Urio made the concluding remarks in which he stressed the importance for China of developing a tourism industry that would be sustainable and would be accessible to the emerging domestic touristic market. He concluded by saying that developing countries should privilege endogenous development and place more value on the development of their own local potentialities to diminish dependency on foreign interests.