chapter  9
34 Pages

Sustainable Tourism

In 1982, the United Nations (UN) asserted that tourism can ‘provide the energy for moral and intellectual understanding’ (Brown, 1999). Today we hear from the UN that tourism will spur poverty relief. There is talk of ‘sustainable tourism’, though the ecotourism industry itself has operated with impunity for three decades. We are now at a crossroad where our moral ambiguity must stop. Will we continue to rely upon the false lifelines thrown to us, or sincerely ask what would sustain life systems? The question of what makes sustainable or ethical tourism is an old one. A whole generation of professionals and academics has greyed without advancement in key areas. We have formulas, guidelines and pilot projects, but no deference to international law on human rights or Indigenous rights. Despite this, during the World Ecotourism Summit (WES) in 2002, many industry delegates remarked on the ‘progressive’ work under way – especially certification. Countless studies have shown the correlation between human rights, Indigenous rights and biodiversity conservation. Reference to ‘traditional’ knowledge in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) reflects this. Resolution 1926 of the Organization of American States (OAS) reaffirms the relationship. Even so, Indigenous rights remain a taboo subject in most policy forums – branded as ‘too political’ by the politically inclined. Easing global terms of trade with Indigenous Peoples is simply not on the economic agenda. Ecotourism is far from politically neutral. Inside the industry, performance audits abound, dutifully exploring both positive and negative impacts – including the perceived effects on Indigenous Peoples. Nonetheless, there

has been a persistent omission of true cost accounting. Much of the data used comes from industry bodies such as The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), the World Tourism Organization (WTO-OMT) and/or the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Submissions from Indigenous Peoples themselves on rights infringement are seldom welcome or accommodated in impact assessment. A number of groups and personalities presiding over the domain of impact assessments have publicly supported Indigenous Peoples while discretely blocking Indigenous self-determination. Some world ‘authorities’ on sustainable tourism walk this fence. A recent case involved the Tourism Task Force of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) (see Box 10.4). Within most policy institutions internationally, the vocabulary is suggestive of rights but serves industry interests. We must ask why resistance to dialogue on Indigenous rights is accepted in the echelons of impact assessment. For a time, skirting the issues raised by Indigenous Peoples can be regarded as an oversight; but soon there is a graduation from being preoccupied to being negligent. Somewhere in the human psyche it becomes permissible to ignore warning signs of abuse and to support the status quo. How can we discuss this? How do we retrieve our humanity? Taking action in support of fundamental human rights is a highly personal decision, stirred by our innermost self. In consumer society, the conviction is often momentary. But we each have a choice of how to proceed once empowered with information. We can plead ignorance, walk a middle road or eschew economies that violate the rights of Indigenous Peoples. After two decades of redundant debate on ecotourism as supposedly ‘sustainable’ tourism, it is appropriate to ask ourselves exactly where we stand.