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Author Topic: Tourism, biodiversity go hand in hand  (Read 402 times)
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« on: October 17, 2010, 07:35:52 am »

A couple of years ago, I came across a book titled 1,000 Places to See Before You Die which aroused my curiosity. The book made me wonder how little we actually get to see of our vast world. Even within our country, there are so many interesting places that we have not even heard of. Indeed, yearning to see new places is a unique human trait. Such wanderlust literally keeps us going.

There is a tourist in all of us. We want to discover new places and learn new things all the time. Broadly speaking, this activity is called tourism. Etymologically, the word tour is derived from the Latin 'tornare' and the Greek 'tornos', meaning 'a lathe or circle - the movement around a central point or axis'. This meaning changed in modern English to represent 'one's turn'. The word tourism was used by 1811 and tourist by 1840.

In 1936, the League of Nations defined foreign tourist as "someone travelling abroad for at least twenty-four hours". The UN World Tourism Organization (WTO) defines tourists as people who "travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for more than 24 hours and not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited." In other words, tourists want to explore the places they visit and learn about new cultures.

Tourism has become a major global industry. In 2008, there were over 922 million international tourist arrivals, with a growth of 1.9 percent compared to 2007. International tourism receipts grew to US$ 944 billion in 2008.

Recognising the importance of tourism to the global economy, the United Nations has designated September 27 as the World Tourism Day (WTD). The UN has marked the event since 1980. This year's theme is Tourism and Biodiversity. This year's host country for WTD events is China, especially the Guangdong Province.

Alongside a series of cultural events organised by the Chinese Government, the China National Tourism Administration will host the 2010 World Tourism Day Think Tank around this year's theme. The Think Tank will bring together leading public and private tourism stakeholders, as well as biodiversity experts and members of the media, to highlight the close relationship between tourism and biodiversity, and identify how tourism can contribute to preserving life on Earth and its unique biodiversity.

The theme 'Tourism and Biodiversity' provides a unique opportunity to raise public awareness of the importance of biodiversity to tourism and the role of sustainable tourism in the conservation of life on Earth, according to the WTO.

Specialised segments
With tourism increasingly focused on specialised segments such as ecotourism, biodiversity has become a key tourism asset. Intact and healthy ecosystems form the cornerstone of thousands of tourist enterprises and products worldwide, attracting hundreds of millions of tourists each year. Tourism generates funds that can help governments to preserve and manage these biodiversity hotspots.

The theme Tourism and Biodiversity is particularly significant in 2010. Concerned by the continued loss of biological diversity, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. The year coincides with the target adopted by Governments in 2002, to achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss

"Tourism and biodiversity are mutually dependent. WTO hopes to raise awareness and calls upon the tourism stakeholders and travellers themselves to contribute their part of the global responsibility to safeguard the intricate web of unique species and ecosystems that make up our planet", said WTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in a message to mark World Tourism Day 2010.

As he rightly points out, the value of biodiversity for tourism is immeasurable. "One of tourism's greatest assets, the diversity of life on Earth causes millions of people to travel the world each year. Yet biodiversity, the intricate web of unique species and ecosystems that make up our planet, is at risk on a global scale. Recognising the value of Earth's natural capital to its long-term sustainability, the tourism industry is called upon to protect and sustainably manage biodiversity. A healthy tourism industry depends on a healthy resource base, and sustainable growth in tourism means increased funds for conservation," he said.

Thus, WTD 2010 will highlight the strong ties between tourism development, biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction. The latter is important, because tourism generates employment and millions depend on those employed directly or indirectly by the tourist industry.

Biodiversity hotspots
The theme is ideal for countries such as Sri Lanka, which have several biodiversity hotspots such as the Knuckles Range and the Sinharaja Forest which are home to many endemic species of flora and fauna. Sri Lanka also has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, natural and cultural. Augmenting this is the presence of ample pure holidaying sites. Sri Lanka should actively promote its biodiversity sites through the worldwide media in the light of this year's WTD theme. It is time to commission a series of documentaries on Sri Lanka's biodiversity that can be aired worldwide in high definition.

Sri Lanka is one of the hottest tourism destinations at present following the end of the 30-year conflict and eradication of terrorism. The New York Times selected it as the Number One destination for 2010. Most countries have lifted their adverse travel advisories on Sri Lanka and there has been an exponential increase in tourist arrivals to the island after May 2009. A total of 63,336 tourists visited Sri Lanka in July this year, compared to 42,223 in July last year.

Sri Lanka attracts around 600,000 tourists a year and the immediate target is to increase it to at least one million tourists from all over the world. Even one million tourists would be just a fraction of the number of tourists visiting some competing destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the UAE in our region. In this light, one million is not an impossible target, but several more factors have to be taken into account in making this a reality.

The authorities should address the shortage of star-class hotel rooms. With the onset of peace, more hotels have been opened and others are being built especially in the emerging East. The North too will need new hotels. There is also a shortage of airline seats into Colombo and certain prestigious airlines that withdrew from Colombo in the wake of terror attacks should be invited to re-commence their flights. The two local airlines should also increase inbound and outbound flights. More school-leavers should be encouraged to enter the field of tourism, which is brimming with employment opportunities due to unprecedented expansion.

South Asia as a whole must formulate a collective approach towards tourism development with a seamless integrated land, air and sea transport network. South Asia will benefit from the proposed pan-Asian railway network. There should be more direct flights between South Asian capitals to facilitate tourism. The region should explore the possibility of introducing a common visa on the lines of the EU's Schengen Visa to enable tourists to visit all seven countries with one visa.

Most travellers are also keen to offset the damage they may cause to the ecosystem in the process of air and sea travel due to their environmental awareness. Individual travellers and the tourism industry are taking steps to offset their 'carbon footprint' through recycling, energy efficient mechanisms, reduced fuel consumption and other such steps. That fits in ideally with the goals of WTD 2010, because these steps will finally strengthen the Earth's biodiversity.
Sunday Observer
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