UNESCO and the International Year of Sustainable Tourism

The United Nations has proclaimed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, in recognition of the tremendous potential of the tourism industry, which accounts for some 10% of the world’s economic activity, to contribute to the fight against poverty and foster mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue, which are at the heart of UNESCO’s mission.

As the UN declared when deciding on the Year, the importance of tourism is recognized: “In fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations and bringing about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world.”

These objectives have long been recognized by UNESCO’s various cultural and scientific programmes, notably the World Heritage Convention which has long been working to ensure that the tourists who visit its 1,052 natural and cultural sites benefit local communities and that visitor flows are managed in ways that are compatible with heritage conservation.

Well-designed and well-managed tourism can also contribute significantly to the sustainable development of the 119 designated UNESCO Global Geoparks in 33 countries, important geological areas that teach us about the history of our planet. Likewise, UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme with its 669 sites in 120 countries has been a pioneering laboratory for sustainability since it was set up to foster economic development that is mindful of the need to preserve the environment and natural resources. UNESCO’s Network of 116 Creative Cities in 54 countries is promoting action and innovation, notably for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Tourism is driven by the forces of globalization that have led to a tremendous growth in the circulation of goods and ideas, people and cultural trends. It can be channeled in ways that allow visitors to enjoy and learn from the wealth and diversity of cultural heritage, cultural expressions and intangible cultural practices. It helps local cultural industries find new audiences, as well as markets, for their goods and services.

During 2017, UNESCO will work with its Member States and many partners to ensure that tourism serves to preserve rather than pillage the world’s multifaceted heritage that it contributes to the wellbeing and dignity of communities, and brings people together.

 

Message by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
for “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”

In designating 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the United Nations General Assembly noted “the importance of international tourism in fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, in leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world”.

Travel helps opens the doors to intercultural exchange and dialogue. With over 1.2 billion people now crossing international borders each year, tourism represents a golden opportunity to break down the barriers of ignorance and prejudices.
Tourism has also the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) data shows the significance of tourism as a vehicle for job creation, generating revenues for host communities, representing around 1 in 11 jobs worldwide. It is in this spirit that UNESCO has advocated for a stronger recognition of the role of culture as an enabler of sustainable development and creative economy as a driver of growth and innovation.
We know the potential of tourism. We also know too well the impact of mismanaged tourism. Ancient monuments can be damaged under the pressure of mass tourism, and intangible heritage is at risk if not properly safeguarded. UNESCO sites such as World Heritage sites, Biosphere Reserves and Geoparks represent incredible opportunities for tourism, and we must ensure that they are managed responsibly and sustainably.

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is an opportunity to strengthen this positive dynamic between heritage and tourism. In 2017, UNESCO will launch several initiatives to support sustainable tourism development, with the European Union and other partners. UNESCO will co-host important conferences on tourism in the Mediterranean Biosphere Reserves and on culture and tourism with UNWTO. Sustainable tourism calls for new partnerships to better educate and inform, to foster new behaviors and strengthen accountability among all tourism stakeholders. This spirit guides the cooperation between UNESCO and the United Nations World Tourism Organization, to ensure sustainable tourism is a catalyst for positive change.