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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Ecotourism Year Seeks to Boost Rural Development

28 January– There is an old adage among hikers in wilderness areas to "take only photographs, leave only your footprints," yet there are growing reports of waste and litter left behind in areas as remote as the trails up Mt. Everest.

As more people travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations, there are growing fears that these intrusions can upset the local environment and the local inhabitants. Yet at the same time, there has been a growing movement in the tourism business to support the idea of ecotourism– that tourism can help promote natural areas, educate visitors, and benefit the local people and the local economy.

This idea has come of age, and to support the movement, the United Nations has designated 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism. Although it is still only a small part of the vast tourism industry, World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said, at a ceremony at UN Headquarters marking the launch of the year, that ecotourism is "far from being a fringe activity." He added, "It should not be regarded as a passing fad or a gimmick, or even as a secondary market niche, but as one of the trump cards of this industry of the future-tourism."

This interest in ecotourism continues in spite of recent problems that the world tourism industry has suffered. Since the attacks in the United States on 11 September, the 7.4 per cent growth that the industry experienced plummeted to zero. Especially hit hard were the Americas, parts of Europe, and the Arab and Muslim world-with Egypt suffering a drop in tourism of between 40 and 50 per cent.

But Frangialli expects tourism to rebound in 2002, and the organization he heads predicts that in 2010, there will be over one billion international tourist arrivals, and by 2020, there will be 1.5 billion.

Ecotourism accounts for only 2-4 per cent of the total tourism industry, from which about 4.4 per cent of the world's gross domestic product flows, and which employs over 200 million people. The industry generated $476 billion in 2000.

"There is a need to get away from the 'bratwurst or peanut butter' mentality," in order to promote ecotourism, according to United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. Although ecotourism presents a difficult balancing act -considering the needs of the visitors, the local inhabitants and the ecosystems– it can bring benefits to remote and fragile sites. In particular, he said, the natural attractions can provide the local inhabitants with an incentive to maintain the ecosystems so that they can enjoy the economic benefits from the tourism.

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24 August 2006