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World Tourism Day Celebrations: Conserving Biodiversity, a Collective Responsibility

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The official 2010 World Tourism Day (WTD) celebrations held on Monday in Guangzhou, China, have underscored the need for increased action by the global tourism sector - as one of the world’s leading economic activities - towards the preservation of biological diversity.

Jointly organized by UNWTO, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) and Guangdong Province, WTD celebrations brought together government representatives from around the world, leading biodiversity researchers, and private industry representatives.

A High Level Dialogue on Tourism, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development was convened as the central event of WTD, under the 2010 WTD theme ‘Tourism and Biodiversity’, to coincide with the UN International Year of Biodiversity. As such, the dialogue provided an important platform from which to debate how tourism can contribute positively to biodiversity conservation and the quality of life of local populations, while minimizing potentially negative environmental and social impacts.

“We are delighted that the official World Tourism Day 2010 celebrations are being held in China, one of the world’s leading tourism destinations and a country rich in biodiversity,” said Shao Qiwei, Chairman of CNTA, opening the dialogue. “China has identified tourism as a strategic pillar of its national economic policy and is committed to its sustainable development, including the responsible use of environmental resources.”

Calling on the tourism sector to generate momentum and accelerate progress towards the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, underlined the value of life on Earth to the long-term sustainability of tourism.

“Biodiversity is at risk on a global scale. Yet the very future of tourism – the millions it employs around the world and its socio-economic contribution to growth and development – depends on the protection and conservation of this biodiversity,” he said.

Leading tourism and biodiversity experts were quick to agree that biodiversity is one of tourism’s most valuable assets. This is especially the case for developing countries, where the largest proportion of global biodiversity can be found and biodiversity-based tourism can make a valuable contribution to socio-economic development.

Among the main conclusions coming out of the panel discussion was the need for the tourism sector to assume a collective responsibility for conserving biological diversity and implementing global targets, including government, the private sector, intergovernmental organizations and civil society.

While the public sector must establish a supportive policy framework and favorable conditions for the sustainable development of tourism, integrating tourism in national biodiversity plans, it is the responsibility of the private sector to implement objectives and assess their performance. This is also relevant for the long-term economic success of tourism enterprises.

The importance of local community involvement in sustainable tourism development and operation was also underlined. While governments and companies must take the lead, participants argued, it is only through engaging and involving with the local community that tourism can truly be developed in a sustainable manner. The benefits of developing sustainable tourism, namely decent work and income opportunities, can provide a strong incentive for communities to protect their natural heritage. To ensure this, wealth generated from biodiversity-based tourism products must be fairly and equitably shared at the local level, increasing local participation in the tourism value chain.

The conclusions coming out of the dialogue will be crafted into the document ‘Guangzhou Recommendations’ and officially presented by UNWTO at the upcoming tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) (18-29 October, Nagoya, Japan).

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