Today’s World Environment Day – Can tourism in wetlands be sustainable?

05/06/2012

On the occasion of World Environment Day (WED), the Ramsar Secretariat takes this opportunity to address sustainable tourism activities in wetlands and how this relates to this year’s WED theme on “Green Economy”. The UN Environment Programme defines the Green Economy as “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”. With their natural beauty and biodiversity wetlands make ideal locations for tourism and the income generated for national and local economies in and around wetlands can be substantial. There is consequently a clear relevance of sustainable wetland tourism in poverty eradication strategies and policies and as a potential contributor to a Green Economy.

Kings Fisher River, Sava city Krško, Slovenia © D. Klenovsek


On the other hand, unsustainable tourism may bring short-term benefits but long-term losses to wetland health, compromising ecosystem services and sometimes local livelihoods. It is therefore important to note the possible negative impacts of tourism on wetlands that can be both direct (in situ), such as through unregulated infrastructure development and disturbance of wetland biodiversity by tourism activities, and indirect (ex situ), such as through upstream unsustainable land and water use. In July 2012, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands will formally address tourism as one of the many ‘ecosystem services’ that wetlands deliver at the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP11) in Bucharest, Romania that will focus on wetlands, tourism and recreation. There is a strong concern among Ramsar’s Contracting Parties that unsustainable or uncontrolled tourism can result in human-induced negative changes to the vital services provided to human societies by Ramsar Sites and other wetlands.

Cervus eldi at Loktak lake Ramsar Site, India © Dhanaraj Maibam

There is thus a clear need to manage wetland tourism wisely through sound policies, planning, and awareness-raising – in other words, by putting the principles of sustainable tourism into action. The Ramsar Convention Secretariat and the United Nations World Tourism Organization are working on a publication that highlights the considerable value of wetlands for tourism and the economic benefits that sustainable tourism can bring for the management of wetland sites, but also identifying some of the many challenges in achieving sustainability. The publication will be launched at COP11 in July 2012.

Sustainability practices are key for tourism businesses

The publication notes that the need for sustainable tourism is now widely appreciated by the tourism sector: many leading and specialist tourism businesses are committed to working towards the greater sustainability of their enterprises. Sustainable tourism – and the concepts of ‘green tourism’ or ‘responsible tourism’ which are also based on sustainable tourism principles - are also of growing importance to tourists themselves and therefore for tourism marketing. Sustainability practices are key for tourism businesses since they help to protect the features that appeal to tourists – attractive and interesting landscapes, wildlife, culture and local traditions. It ensures that these continue to generate economic benefits for both business and local communities. 

Businesses need to be able to satisfy the market demand from tourists, and to do so profitably, so that they can generate employment and other economic benefits that remain within the area and its host communities. Achieving this requires businesses that play to their strengths, by focusing on what they can best offer within the resources the destination can provide. These include the availability and quality of accommodation and catering, its transport links and basic infrastructure, local supplies of goods and services, as well as a destination’s natural, historic and cultural resources.

WED 2012 theme: “Green Economy – How does it include you?”

The concepts of ‘green tourism’ or ‘responsible tourism’ are also becoming more important to tourists themselves. Sustainability is essential for tourism businesses since it helps to protect the features that appeal to tourists – attractive and interesting landscapes, wildlife, culture and local traditions. It ensures that these continue to generate economic benefits for both business and local communities. At Ramsar’s COP11 a Resolution on sustainable tourism and wetlands is likely to be adopted, thus providing a useful tool to assist countries in managing their tourism.

On this World Environment Day, the Ramsar Secretariat joins other MEAs such as the World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Programme, the CBD’s Biodiversity and Tourism Network, the Convention on Migratory Species, and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) in the attention given to achieving sustainable tourism. In this year of tourism for Ramsar, the Secretariat reaffirms its commitment to encourage well-managed tourism practices in and around wetlands. Educating tourists on the value of wetlands contributes to the health of the world's wetlands and the long-term benefits they provide to people, wildlife, economics, and biodiversity.

Seno Almirantazgo, Magallanes y Antártica Chilena © N. Martinez

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
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