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2002: The International Year of Ecotourism

What’s Happening?

In 1998, the United Nations General Assembly voted to observe 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism, offering an unparalleled opportunity for interested local and national stakeholders to review the social and environmental benefits that the ecotourism industry can offer host countries when suitably developed.


With a series of global and local events, publications and discussion platforms, the Year will be a time to review the ecotourism industry's effect on biodiversity, its potential contribution to sustainable development, its social, economic and environmental impacts, and the degree to which regulatory mechanisms and voluntary programs are effective in monitoring and controlling those impacts. More than 40 national and local multi-stakeholder committees have already been set up to organize activities related to the Year.

The two principal organizations responsible for IYE are the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Their principal goals are to open a wide review on the potential contribution of ecotourism to sustainable development and to exchange information on good practice techniques and lessons learned in the sustainable planning, development, management and marketing of ecotourism.

Other goals of the International Year of Ecotourism include:

  • Generate greater awareness among public authorities, the private sector, civil society and consumers regarding ecotourism's capacity to contribute to the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage in natural and rural areas, and the improvement of standards of living in those areas;
  • Disseminate methods and techniques for the planning, management, regulation and monitoring of ecotourism to guarantee its long-term sustainability;
  • Promote exchanges of experiences and lessons learned in the field of ecotourism; and,
  • Increase opportunities for the efficient marketing and promotion of ecotourism destinations and products on international markets.


According to a 2001 WTO/OMT study, ecotourism may represent between 2 and 4 per cent of global tourism. The global significance of ecotourism does not come from its revenue volume, but rather because it strives to:

  • Protect the rapidly disappearing ecosystems that house most of the remaining biodiversity on Earth, and it is one of the few feasible economic tools to finance conservation of sensitive ecosystems; and
  • Ensure that local communities have a voice in sustainable development, that they benefit positively from revenue flows, since ecotourism operations and infrastructure are generally small-size and are run directly by them, and that less impacting alternative livelihoods are available.

"Ecotourism, is far from being a fringe activity. It should not be regarded as a passing fad or a gimmick, or even as a secondary market niche, but rather as one of the trump cards of this industry of the future, i.e. tourism. And for a simple reason: it is crucial to the problem of developing a balanced, sustainable and responsible tourism sector", said WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli.

"Ecotourism has many definitions, but as a general goal it should provide an opportunity to develop tourism in ways that minimize the industry's negative impacts and a way to actively promote the conservation of Earth's unique biodiversity", said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director. "If handled properly, ecotourism can be a valuable tool for financing the protection of ecologically sensitive areas and the socio-economic development of populations living in or close to them."


To discuss these goals and plans, IYE Regional Meetings are taking place around the world. The WTO is sponsoring meetings in the Maldives, Moscow and Fiji.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) has also organized Regional Meetings worldwide, focusing on developing ecotourism and eco-certification programs in Belize; Sikkim, India; Lima, Peru; Chain Mai, Thailand; Nairobi, Kenya; and Sweden.

The Rainforest Alliance is also currently conducting a Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council Project, the goal of which to gather information and create a global accreditation body for ecotourism and sustainable tourism certification. The results of the survey and the recommendations will be presented at the World Ecotourism Summit.


The key global event for the Year will be the World Ecotourism Summit, hosted by Canada, in Quebec City, from May 19 to 22, 2002, which over 500 high-level delegates and experts from all regions will attend. Twenty international preparatory conferences, started last year, will feed directly into the Summit.

"The World Ecotourism Summit is expected to be the largest ever gathering of the different stakeholders concerned with the issue", said Mr. Toepfer. "It will be the key global event for the International Year. To ensure that ecotourism follows a truly sustainable path will require increased cooperation–and partnerships –among the tourism industry, governments, local people and the tourists themselves and the Summit offers that opportunity."


The designation of the International Year of Ecotourism is proof that the principles of ecotourism are taking hold worldwide. The activities of the year provide a landmark opportunity to make ecotourism’s goals and plans a reality for the future. Accreditation, development, and sustainability are all being addressed by diverse groups and nations. With continued work, the benefits of ecotourism and sustainable travel can be reaped by communities and countries worldwide.


Copyright 2006. GoNOMAD All rights reserved.


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