by Ben Heron
In 1992, representatives of 179 governments from around the world
met in Rio de Janeiro to attend the 'Earth Summit', a United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development. World leaders united
to sign a global environment and development action plan called
Agenda 21, a document setting out the priorities for a sustainable
pattern of world development into the 21st century. Agenda 21
is not specifically directed at tourism, but it acknowledges the
importance of tourism in many areas of sustainable development,
especially where it can help certain communities, particularly
in fragile environments such as the Himalayas.
Local governments are therefore obliged to support any type of
tourism that directly promotes sustainability and long-term self-sufficiency.
This includes combating poverty, changing consumption patterns,
conserving the environment, allocating land-use for its greatest
sustainable benefits and strengthening local groups such as cooperative
societies and trade unions.
In order to make tourism more sustainable, the tourists themselves
also need to be more aware of the potential damage their stay
in the less developed world can cause. Ultimately, the consumer
is responsible for the success of tourist enterprises, so it is
up to the tourist to choose responsible tour operators and travel
companies who do not exploit host communities and their environments.
The tourist industry and local governments must also take responsibility
to reduce leakage and involve local populations with decision
making and participation.