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Sustainability for the future

Sustainability for the future

Secretary general of UN World Tourism Organisation makes first official trip of his tenure and warns that ecotourism needs governmental support to take root

SUSTAINABLE tourism that promotes and protects environmental values forms the future of sector, and those who ignore its importance will struggle to compete, a leading official from the United Nations’ tourism body said Thursday.

“I can assure you that the destinations that do not position themselves as responsible sustainable destinations will be left behind very soon,” UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai told industry delegates at the NagaWorld Hotel and Casino in Phnom Penh.

In his first official visit to any country since becoming Secretary General in January, Taleb Rifai said sustainable tourism was one of three key challenges – the other two being job creation and poverty alleviation – that the industry needs to keep addressing in order to reach its full potential as a support to the economy.

Comparing climate change to the economic crisis of 2009, he said that those who developed tourism while respecting environmental concerns would see their businesses benefit.

“Travellers are going to be demanding on this – it’s part of being a good citizen. You’re going to see tourists going to more destinations that adopt sustainable practices. It’s going to be good for business,” he said.

Cambodia’s Minister for Tourism Thong Khon said in his welcoming speech to Taleb Rifai that the government had already made ecotourism, together with community tourism and agrotourism, a priority.

He pointed to initiatives such as the Clean City, Clean Resort, Clean Service competition.

“We hold the Clean City contest in an attempt to enhance environmental beauty, hygiene and to promote the protection of the environment in both the cities and provinces,” he said.

However, he said there is more the government plans to do.

“Using the seven basic strategies and key indicators of the UNWTO, we will prepare an in-depth strategic plan of Cambodia, post-crisis, in order to achieve a green economy.

“With 2010 as our starting point, we will aim to create in Cambodia more sustainable, quantitative, cultural and natural tourism by 2015,” Thong Khon said.

Taleb Rifai said tourism is the third-largest industry in the world, surpassing food and energy and many other traditionally important industries.

However, he said, it is sometimes negatively affected by decision-makers who do not appreciate its full effectiveness in helping the economy.

“There are also clear signs for an increased appetite to impose taxes on the industry. This is still seen as a standalone industry and very little public acknowledgment and awareness as to how much damage can be done if this industry is not supported,” he said.

On the part of tourism groups, he encouraged them to pitch their services as a key pillar of the economy.

“Unless we link it [tourism] to poverty alleviation, environmental responsibility, and to job creation then it will continue to be a standalone industry that is under-recognised and under-utilised,” he said.

“It is the without doubt the largest transfer of wealth and funds from those that have it to those that don’t have it,” he said.

He said that UNWTO projected that by 2020 up to 1.6 billion people will be “crossing borders every year – and the market share is moving in the direction of Asia”. ADDITIONAL REPORTING CHUN SOPHAL

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