Wed, 12 Sep 2001

Expert calls for sustainable tourism development

YOGYAKARTA (JP): An expert of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has called upon those involved in tourism to apply the concept of sustainable tourism development to halt any damage caused by the tourist industry.

Beatrice Kaldun, consultant for culture at the office of the UNESCO regional advisor for culture in Asia and the Pacific, unveiled here on Tuesday the results of a recent survey of conservation problems at World Heritage sites.

"The recent survey of conservation problems at World Heritage sites reveals clearly how damaging tourism can be to the heritage, the environment and to the local communities who live near the sites," she said.

She was speaking at a tourism symposium being held in conjunction with East Asia Inter-regional Tourism Forum (EATOF) meeting that took place in Yogyakarta from Sept. 9 to Sept. 11.

Representatives from eight provinces in the region, comprising Gangwon (Korea), Cebu (Philippines), Tuv Aimag (Mongolia), ChiangMai (Thailand), Tottori Prefecture (Japan), Jilin (China), Yogyakarta (Indonesia) and Sarawak (Malaysia), attended the symposium.

According to Kaldun, the survey also revealed that a policy that blindly pursues rapid growth in tourist numbers contained two main fallacies.

"First, the impact of increased tourism activities and the pressure it puts on the sites, the people of local communities, and the surrounding environment, can create an irreversible downward spiral which degrades the heritage values of some of the sites to the point where the site ceases to be valuable as a tourism resource and where further increases in tourist numbers have ever-diminishing returns," she said.

"The second," she added, "the increasing profits made by the tourism industry (private sector and government) are not being used to redress the imbalance between visitor servicing and heritage conservation."

She said such a problem was exacerbated because policy planners and tourism developers alike had overlooked the reality that increased visitor numbers required increased site maintenance, infrastructure and personnel.

She warned tourism stakeholders that tourism also placed some vulnerable members of communities at risk.

"Experience throughout Asia and the Pacific, as well as elsewhere in the world, has also shown that the rapid and unregulated growth of tourism has been responsible for serious social dislocations including ruthless land expropriation from ethnic minorities," she said.

"The cultural heritage of Asia and the Pacific may be exotic and seductive attractions for both foreign and domestic tourists, but there are limits. The demise (of the sites) will mean not only loss of some of the most sacred and spectacular, historic and scientifically important places on earth. It will also mean the end of the tourist industry based on theses cultural and natural resources. We are in grave danger of loving our heritage to death," said Kaldun.

According to her, tourism stakeholders must be aware that present rate growth (as applied in tourism) is unsustainable.

"Applied to tourism, sustainable tourism development means recognizing the benefits of tourism growth and also recognizing that sustaining the benefits of this growth will ultimately depend on the ability to preserve over time the very things which attract the tourists and respecting the very communities and cultural landscapes that play host to the tourists," she said.

"We have to engender a paradigm shift in the tourism industry itself, transforming tourism from an industry which merely exploits into an industry whose ultimate purpose and goal is the preservation of the heritage," she added. (23)