World's ecologically sensitive places are always vulnerable to increased number of visits of tourists. In other worlds tourism in general endangers sensitive environments.
However, the fact is that proper planning and management can not only conserve the environment of a ecologically sensitive environment but also generate funds for basic conservation efforts and research which is very important in order to understand a particular ecosystem.
The World Conference on Tourism held in Manila in 1980 identified in the ‘Manila Declaration’ ‘tourism’ as an “activity essential to the life of nations because of its direct effects on the social, cultural, educational and economic sectors of national societies and on their international relations” (Technical Manual, 1995).
Tourism has traditionally been defined either in term of activities of tourists/visitors (the demand side) or in terms of the activities of businesses supplying tourists/visitors (the supply side).
The 1991 World Tourism Organisation (WTO) Ottawa Conference on Travel and Tourism accepted the demand side of the definition as “the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes”.
The United Nation’s specialized tourism related agency, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is vested with the objective of promotion of tourism. UNEP/UNWTO (2005) defined sustainable tourism as tourism that takes “full account of current and future economic, social and environmental impacts addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.
The UNEP/UNWTO definition is applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations weather mass tourism or niche tourism, including eco-tourism.
In 1972, the environment becoming an issue was prompted by the Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in 1972.
By a search of research literature one can find that the concept of tourism, eco-tourism and sustainable tourism evolved over years in relation to the purpose, place and size. Proper assessment of tourism development of a particular place therefore needs study in the context of sustainable tourism needs assessment in the background of empirical understanding of the subject in literature.
The concept of sustainability in tourism has developed over the last few decades as a result of improved understanding of the applied aspects of the concept to tourism industry.
Reviewing literature, Clarke (1997) identified various authors’ approaches to the concept of sustainable tourism and identified four frameworks which in chronological order were that of polar opposites, continuum, movement and convergence.
While the early debate whether a particular type of tourism fell in this category or not, it was largely recognized that all form of tourism must move towards sustainability.
The early literature commonly recognized scale as the distinguishing feature but Clarke (1997) considered this as the unifying theme for the proposed framework. The first position of polar opposites was conceived when mass tourism was considered as polar opposite to sustainable tourism.
Alternative tourism (Pearse, 1992) was the popular label for sustainable tourism and it was pulling away from mass tourism. In this position the two types were considered as ‘good’ and ‘bad’; the negative social and environmental impacts at destinations were attributed to mass tourism, a destructive tourism type.
Advocates of alternative tourism even pressed for a total replacement of mass tourism. In this framework of polar opposite position, sustainable tourism was considered as a possession of small scale characteristics, in short small was synonymous with sustainable.
The next position in the framework is the position of a continuum between mass tourism and sustainable tourism. The view held that sustainable tourism utilized the infrastructure, transport and reservation system of mass tourism and therefore if it was not properly managed it had the potential of development into mass tourism.
With dramatic growth in international tourism from 25 million trips in 1950 (WTO, 1993) to the 531 million in 1994 (WTO, 1995a) and continued predicted growth (WTO,1995b), replacement of mass tourism with sustainable tourism was not feasible.
Sustainable tourism being considered small lacked capability and could neither manage arrival numbers nor bring the kind of economic returns required. There were problems with issues such as elitism, local ownership and control. Therefore, some researchers believed that mass tourism was not harmful if it progressed towards ‘harmonious’ tourism.
In the third position, scale became a less emotive issue and became a subject demanding improvement and alignment to sustainable development. The negative impact of mass tourism is replaced by large scale tourism.
This position takes a more objective view to achieve the goal of sustainable tourism by making changes in large scale tourism. It is industries like mining and manufacturing which damaged the environment.
The large scale tourism possessed several strengths like marketing, communication and contacts to foster interest in sustainable tourism; large scale has the strength to influence suppliers and distributors to persuade them to sustainable policies in supply chain.
It appeared that the large scale tourism had more strength to move to sustainable tourism. On the demand side consumers showed more interests in green issues.
Financial institutions were available with funds to support initiatives to move to sustainable options. Large scale tourism showed signs of proactively moving to sustainable tourism.
Environment becoming a major concern, it is now evident that initiatives have come from different quarters: British Airways published environmental report, the International Hotels Environment Initiative (Van Praag, 1992); and launch of ‘Green Globe’ programme across the hotel sector.
The fourth position is the current position of convergence where the objective is to reach the goal. Here regardless of the scale all tourism must strive for sustainability. In the current form the tourism is large scale, it incorporates the dominant view of large size business conforming to ecological perspectives and a small scale view of sustainability at the level of destination.
The small scale view of alternative tourism at local level takes care of local economic, social and cultural aspects.
The current tourism is environmentally conscious trying to be compliant to international regulations. It is still evolving at both levels: the large business caters to the ever growing needs and the destination level taking care of the economic, social, cultural needs for their preservation and promotion. There are guidelines for business at all levels for implementation and follow-up.
The evolution of sustainable tourism observed above is a consequence of growing global concern for deterioration of environment.
Though UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the main international agency concerned with sustainable tourism, there are several international organizations concerned with the formulation of policy, principles, processes, standards and implementation of the programmes in this field.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is the main international body involved in formulation, promotion, standardization and certification of sustainable tourism principles, procedures and practice. To implement 12 aims of sustainable tourism, GSTC developed Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for tourism and for destinations.
The GSTC criteria developed as part of tourism sector’s response to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals of poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability and climate change. First released in 2008, these criteria are revised regularly after consultation. The criteria indicated expectations and purposes:
(i) Guidelines for tourism related business chain using global criteria;
(ii) Guidance for travel agencies in choosing suppliers and sustainable tourism programs;
(iii) Help consumers in identifying sound sustainable tourism programs and businesses;
(iv) Serve as a label to recognize sustainable tourism providers and products; (v) Help certification and voluntary programs ensure that their standards conform to a broadly accepted baseline;
(vi) Offer all agencies (governmental, non-governmental, and private ) a starting point for developing sustainable tourism requirements;
(vii) Serve as basic guidelines for education and training bodies, such as hotel, schools and universities. For the purpose of providing guidance in measuring of compliance with the GSTC criteria, the criteria consist of 40 guidelines.
These guidelines are for application by hotels, tour operators and destinations. Sustainable tourism criteria are the guiding principles and are built around possible socioeconomic impact, cultural impact, and environmental impact including consumption of resources, reducing pollution, conserving biodiversity, and preventing landscapes.
GSTC criteria are the minimum which businesses and destinations should follow to achieve social, environmental, cultural and economic sustainability. Since tourism destinations have their own culture, environment, customs and laws, the criteria can be suitably adapted to local conditions and supplemented with additional criteria for specific location and activity.
GSTC criteria have been developed for hotels, tour operators and for destinations. GSTC has developed certain standards and certification programmes for being designated as ‘GSTC-Recognized’, ‘GSTC-approved’ and ‘.GSTC-Accredited’.
Sustainable tourism offered opportunities for creation of jobs and trade. The member states had emphasized the importance of sustainable tourism in creating decent job opportunities and trade opportunities.
Following the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June, 2012, the outcome document emphasized on the need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity-building for promotion of environmental awareness, conservation and protection of the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity and ecosystems and cultural diversity and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities. Recommendations very relevant to countries ecologically sensitive.
The Conference also encouraged “investment in sustainable tourism, including ecotourism and cultural tourism, which may include creating small and medium sized enterprises and facilitating access to finance, including through microcredit initiatives for the poor, indigenous peoples and local communities” ( General Assembly resolution 66/288, annex, paras. 130 and 131).
UNWTO, in persuasion of the General Assembly resolution 66/196, had taken a lead in preparing a report (UN General Assembly, 68th Session) on sustainable tourism in seven small countries of Central American Region.