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The new Secretary General of UNWTO: Will tourism continue for the economy or ecology?

Written by Fernando Zornitta

An eTN reader submitted his interesting take on the new Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Among the slice of the planet that the UNWTO General Secretary’s candidates defend and play their cards and where there are those who can get votes, certainly are the interests of governments, and the commercial interests of the “tourism industry.” But there is also a planet in agony and a population that needs proactive activities in terms of environmental, social, economic, cultural, and ethical sustainability, in terms of a perspective of harmony and peace – which tourism, as a human activity, can help to conquer, reversing the chaotic path indicated by the econometric actions of litigation and disputes, of encampment of the remarkable landscapes, which forget the man, the humanity, and the life that inhabits this ship, Earth, that gently welcomes us.

Tourism is a powerful tool for the promotion of harmony and planetary peace, since it favors the mutual recognition, understanding, valorization, and preservation of different cultures and their environmental patrimony – a better distribution of income and inclusion.

Along with tourism – as a potential human activity for this reversal – are leisure and recreation, sport, spirituality, education and culture, arts, as well as science and technology. It is a sad scenario that we built in our human evolution.

As for realigning the planet – if there will be time and conditions – it is necessary that “principles of responsible human coexistence and a systemic view to solve problems,” and for tourism, which can both bring benefits and promote harmful effects, for this important human activity needs these principles and specific principles to guide itself, as it is an activity that develops in the territory itself and the socio-cultural environment visited.

The Sustainable Tourism Charter, which originated from the World Conference on Sustainable Tourism, which involved various United Nations agencies and which took place in Lanzarote, Canary Islands in Spain in 1995, has left us an important reflection and pointed out the 18 fundamental principles for sustainable tourism. Other letters and “messages” left by the “conscience tuning” in favor of this important activity also point in this direction.

The tourism economy has a strange focus on the ecology and sustainability that is essential for the activity itself, and the “tourism industry” draws on the direction of entrepreneurship, investment, and guides the localities of visitation, transforming the landscape and despising cultures. Developing countries today are the main focus of investment; political weakness and lack of knowledge on the part of politicians on call – who encourage the “econometric” view, while looking thickly at the sociocultural and ecological-environmental aspects involved.

This is evident in the economic organization of the territory, where the encampment of remarkable landscapes occurs in an open manner and without any logical foundation. It is not by chance that we have hotel equipment on top of dunes, cliffs, riversides, and lakes, as well as tourist-real estate ventures that settle in a colonial manner and disrespect traditional cultures and communities, generating business and services that cannot be provided by locals.

This typology of enterprises that populate our territory and promote impacts – although they should help promote sustainability, harmony and peace – a precept widely touted by the philosophy of tourism, paradoxically, help to promote discord, exclusion, and greater concentration of income, if not guided by the principles of sustainability, specific to this activity.

So that humanity and the planet have a chance to realign themselves in a perspective of leaving the black hole in which we have been thronging for centuries, and especially in the contemporary world, where only 20% of the planet’s population lives well, while 80% follow marginalized lives and are excluded from the scientific, technological, and economic advances and benefits that our human intelligence has developed and conquered, tourism is also a powerful tool to make osmosis of blessings from one part of the planet to another and between different cultures and societies. So, it must be guided by principles of sustainability.

Being a human activity that develops in the “territory to be visited,” it needs to value and protect the elements that make up the environmental and socio-cultural attractions; it needs to stick to the human element that participates in this activity – the tourist, the inhabitant and the service provider – and help compensate for inequalities.

This concern is in the Statutes of the World Tourism Organization already in its objectives and more specifically in Article 3:

1. The principal objective of the Organization shall be to promote and develop tourism with a view to contributing to economic expansion, international understanding, peace, prosperity, and universal respect for and observance of fundamental human rights and freedoms, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. The Organization shall take all necessary measures to achieve this objective.

2. In pursuit of this objective, the Organization shall pay particular attention to the interests of developing countries in the field of tourism.

Tourism is an activity that generates work and income and favors the interchange between cultures, local development, the promotion of the economy, and a better distribution of financial resources – among other positive aspects – and needs to be based on ethical, social justice, and environmental preservation principles.

Although the positive aspects it evokes and can bring, if guided by the optics of responsible planning, tourism can also help to further focus resources on regions of the planet, to exclude even more, to favor the environmental depreciation and impact cultures, if the look is not systemic and for the sustainability and collaboration to the development.

The new UNWTO General Secretary

The new UNWG SG must be chosen among those who have this “ecological” look at the planet and life (and for all) to the less-favored nations and not only to defend the same interests that are leading us to the civilizational and planetary chaos. The UNWTO is one of the most proactive and potential UN agencies for development aid, so it must be able to choose among its peers the one that will make the most of regions that have potential and that need the knowledge and skills of its maximum leader, and the team that will lead this important institution.

The choice has been made by the vote of its Executive Council from the conscience (or lack thereof) and from the will of its affiliates, who will live thereafter, for many years with the one chosen. The forces and ideologies were put to the table by the candidates, and what is pointed out in the scenario is that the one who has the support of those who are better in the picture – in the world economic scenario – and of that one who supports the wealthiest nations will win.

But its work cannot get stuck in the economy, but be guided by ecology in the face of the planetary outcry in the year UNWTO has chosen as the year of sustainable tourism.

PHOTO: Outgoing SG Taleb Rifai (left) and new SG Zurab Pololikashvili (right)

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About the author

Fernando Zornitta