Protecting the World from Tourists

M A D R I D, July 10, 2000 -- — World tourism is booming, withEurope’s best-known monuments groaning at the seams and tropicalislands at risk of being spoiled, the head of the World TourismOrganisation said in an interview.

The 138-member country organization’s most urgent task is to put into practice a code of ethics to protect sensitiveenvironments and shield remote cultures from the onslaught oftourists, Secretary General Francesco Frangialli told Reuters.

Things are going to get worse. The World TourismOrganization’s (WTO) forecasts show that by 2020 1.56 billiontourists a year will be roaming the world — more than doublethis year’s forecast of 668 million.

Vulnerability Worse for Some

“The pressure on the environment and on [travel]infrastructure will be high, even based on these conservativeforecasts,” Frangialli told Reuters.

Countries just opening to tourism are particularly vulnerablebecause their roads and airports are ill prepared for the hordesand their people are unused to Western customs.

The WTO has recently been helping India’s Andaman andNicobar islands develop tourism while respecting the Muslimlifestyle of local inhabitants, and found a solution in puttingtourist hotels on uninhabited islands to leave the local peopleundisturbed.

It has also advised the Maldives about water and wastemanagement as the Indian Ocean archipelago’s tourist tradegrows.

Europe can just about cope with its 400 million tourists ayear now, but not if they all come at the same time and want togo to the same places, he said.

“We get groups of Japanese girls coming to Europe for aweek and they all want to see the Mona Lisa and the Hermes shopin Paris and then go the Sistine Chapel and buy a bag at Gucciin Rome,” Frangialli said.

“We have to work on diversifying tourist flows to avoidconcentrations and lower the pressure on some sites andmonuments at certain times of year,” he said.

The Madrid-based WTO is a modest set-up advising countriesabout developing tourism, with 90 staff and an annual budget of$10 million, funded by its members’ annual contributions andsales of studies and publications.

Limiting the Damage

Increasingly the WTO is concerned about limiting the damagetourists do and it hopes that implementing the ethical code itsmembers have already approved will help.

Members have agreed to foster awareness among tourists,developers and tourist industry workers about the places theyvisit and work, discourage sex tourism and exploitation ofchildren and inform and protect the tourists themselves.

“We are setting up a world committee on tourism ethics,which should be running by 2002 with participation ofnon-government organizations [NGOs] and anyone else who isinterested,” Frangialli said.

The committee could not provide arbitration, because itwould have no legal power to enforce sanctions, but it couldcarry out conciliation in disputes between developers andenvironmentalists, for example, he said.

Top Destination: China

Much of future tourist development is going to happen inAsia and, because of the sheer size of the country, China, theWTO’s forecasts show.

By 2020 China will have overtaken France, the United Statesand Spain as the top tourist destination with 130 millionvisitors a year, and it will also be exporting 100 milliontourists of its own a year.

But even China, with a population of more than a billion, willnot be able to compete with Germany and Japan in the number oftourists it sends abroad.

In 2020 there will be 153 million Germans on the move everyyear — presumably many travel more than once — and 142 millionJapanese, the forecasts show.

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