Exploring the jungle, breathing the pure air of the forests, hearing the sweet humming of the birds, diving into the waters of a peaceful river. How can anyone not feel excited about such a pleasuring feeling – all of these enabled by the natural environment?
When exploring the world out there, we are surprised by all the variety of landscapes nature can provide us. Take the Amazon river, in Brazil, for example, or the Yosemite forest, in the United States, the Slovenian canyons, the rain forests in Congo,nor the Kangaroo Island, in Australia. Destinations like these have turned sustainable tourism into a growing industry.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), while traditional tourism increases around 7.5% every year, sustainable tourism has been increasing 20% a year.
The 17 sustainable development goals, proposed by the United Nations in 2015, have enforced a global agenda with actions aiming to end of poverty, promote a global well-being and protect the environment. This agenda has given sustainable tourism a spotlight.
In that sense, the UN has declared 2017 as “The year of sustainable tourism for development”, a strategy of integration between countries and of cultural patrimony preservation, stimulating tourism as an economic industry as well as exploring the natural environment responsibly.
But what is sustainable tourism?
The UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.
Although discovering and investing in new natural destinations can be profitable, these activities can harm the environment and cause irreversible damage. Therefore, while sustainable tourism increases access to natural regions, it should do it responsibly, respecting the local culture and preserving the fauna and flora.
To explain all aspects of Sustainable Tourism, the Youth Press Agency interviewed the professor Mônica Araújo, PhD in Social Environment Development in Brazil.
YPA: How is the Sustainable Tourism scene looking nowadays?
Mônica Araújo: Sustainable tourism and ecotourism are areas within tourism which aim to present natural regions and resources to tourists. This movement is growing worldwide, especially here in South America, since it’s where there’re more preserved areas when comparing to European countries, for example. Here in Brazil, we have so many potential areas for ecotourism, but in order to develop this activity, we need a series of products and services to offer that takes one step forward into doing sustainable tourism.
YPA: The UN defined 2017 as the year for sustainable tourism. How did this help the sector?
Mônica: First of all, everyone is paying attention to this theme in 2017, since sustainable tourism is the most grown sector of field in the world. Soon governments and universities will hold events on this theme, which stimulates the interest of the academia to research and write about it. Sustainable tourism is already a transversal theme among tourism researchers.
YPA: Considering there are unexplored areas around the world which are completely isolated, how can we make sustainable tourism possible without harming the environment?
Mônica: Any activity developed within a protected area is supported by 1. the conservation of biodiversity; 2. the benefits it brings to the community; 3. the environmental education. Everything works in a chain, therefore, we must work along with the communities, benefit them, and stimulate them to preserve the region. The more the local population knows and preserve their territory, the smaller are the negative impacts. Today, we deal with water contamination, deforestation, and that’s harmful to the whole world. Another issue is that the infrastructure close to the preserved areas, most of the times, are not suitable for tourists. In that sense, the huge number of tourists that visit those areas can cause a harmful impact, since it’s not supported or controlled.
YPA: So what can be done for local development?
Mônica: Environmental education projects are developed internationally. If the communities are not aware about the territory they live in, they certainly won’t take adequate care of it. Thus, the effort on environmental education must be done side by side with schools and community centers that are involved directly with the preservation units.