ISSN 1108-8931


Year 7 - Issue 83 - Aug 06

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"Tourists are becoming more and more sensitive to the quality and conservation of environmental and cultural resources" - Eugenio Yunis

The ECOCLUB Interview with Eugenio Yunis
Head, Sustainable Development of Tourism
United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)
Index of Interviews

Mr Eugenio Yunis, UN World Tourism OrganisationMr. Eugenio Yunis is a Civil Engineer (University of Chile), with post-graduate studies in Development Economics (University of Grenoble, France), who has been involved with international tourism development and management issues for the last twenty years, always from a public perspective.

He worked during several years as a consultant, undertaking technical assistance projects in developing countries throughout the world. He joined the World Tourism Organization in 1982 and was Chief for the Americas and Europe at the Organisation, and Joint Chief of Technical Co-operation until 1989. From 1990 to 1994 he was Director General of the National Tourism Department in Chile, his home country, period during which an impressive growth of the Chilean tourism industry took place, doubling the number of international tourist arrivals. During his term in office, he stimulated joint public-private sector initiatives in tourism development and marketing.

Upon completion of his four-year term in Government, he continued as an advisor to the tourism industry and government in Chile and other countries in Latin America. In 1996 he published a major study on “Prospects of Tourism in South America” (The Economist, London). He has written a number of articles on the relationships between tourism and environment, tourism and culture, and tourism and poverty alleviation, published in journals throughout the world. Since 1997 he is back at the World Tourism Organisation in Madrid, where he heads the Sustainable Development of Tourism Department. In this capacity, he is responsible for the areas of Tourism Sustainability, Ecotourism Development, Conservation of Natural and Cultural Assets through Tourism, and Poverty Alleviation through Sustainable Tourism. He represents UNWTO at the UN bodies dealing with sustainable development.

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO/OMT), a specialized agency of the United Nations, is the leading international organization in the field of tourism. It serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues and practical source of tourism know-how. With its headquarters in Madrid, Spain, the UNWTO plays a central and decisive role in promoting the development of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, with the aim of contributing to economic development, international understanding, peace, prosperity and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms. In pursuing this aim, the Organization pays particular attention to the interests of developing countries in the field of tourism.

The UNWTO plays a catalytic role in promoting technology transfers and international cooperation, in stimulating and developing public-private sector partnerships and in encouraging the implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, with a view to ensuring that member countries, tourist destinations and businesses maximize the positive economic, social and cultural effects of tourism and fully reap its benefits, while minimizing its negative social and environmental impacts.

(The Interview follows:) You were instrumental in organising and managing the first International Year of Ecotourism. Four years after, what is your verdict about the usefulness or impact of that year, and should it be repeated?

Eugenio Yunis: Indeed, in preparation for the International Year of Ecotourism and during it, in 2002, UNWTO jointly with UNEP and other organizations undertook a wide range of research, capacity building and technical assistance activities and organized a number of regional and international conferences to provide a wide forum for all stakeholders, to raise issues and exchange experiences. In 2003 we conducted a survey to evaluate the impacts of IYE 2002, and the results were very encouraging: for example, half of the responding 93 countries had already established specific ecotourism policies, and had set up national ecotourism committees involving all the key sectors; many countries had organized a wide range of activities, such as awareness raising programmes, private sector support and community development initiatives, and specific projects related to protected areas. 2002 effectively marked a special focus on ecotourism, and while this segment of the tourism industry continues to be a key field with a broad range of follow-up activities, we must also look carefully and devote efforts to other emerging issues and complex fields, such as poverty reduction through sustainable tourism, or climate change and tourism.

Many apportion blame to Tourism - an easy, impersonal target - for all sorts of evils according to their world view, religion and ideology. However, how would you evaluate the overall environmental and social record of Tourism compared to other, sometimes competing sectors such as mining, plantations or forestry?

EY: Tourism, if properly planned and controlled can provide comparative advantages in terms of the use of natural resources. Pristine environment and intact ecosystems are the sole foundation of any tourism activity, it being a beach holiday or a specialized nature trip, thus tourism can provide an economic value for these natural assets and generate income to support their preservation, and in this way it provides viable alternatives to other land use and resource exploitation forms. It has to be underlined, however, that if tourism development happens in a disorderly manner, as it unfortunately still does in some countries, it can generate mayor environmental impacts, especially caused by the development of tourism-related infrastructure. Tourism has various comparative advantages to other sectors considering business and employment opportunities: the entry costs are relatively lower for tourism businesses; tourism provides both skilled and unskilled labour, labour for women and youth and for other disadvantaged parts of society. Through the multiplier effects, tourism can stimulate the development of related sectors like agriculture, transportation, construction, handicrafts.

Over the last decade most governments have come to recognise - or at least pay lip service to - the need for a sustainable tourism. However, do you feel there is also a commensurate rise in sensitivity among tourists, or is sustainable tourism still the domain of politicians, academics and consultants?

EY: First of all, I would like to stress that governments are increasingly recognizing the need for a sustainable development of tourism, which is manifested in tourism policies increasingly embracing sustainability principles, or tourism increasingly being integrated in national sustainable development strategies. A policy report prepared by UNWTO for the Johannesburg Summit in 2002 provides a good evidence for this. Tourists are becoming more and more sensitive to the quality and conservation of environmental and cultural resources, and these represent increasingly important factors in travel decision making, as the series of UNWTO studies in ecotourism generating markets also demonstrated these trends.

Your department, the UN WTO's Sustainable Development of Tourism Section, could be considered as the vanguard, with many noble and ambitious goals regarding what could be described as 'a tourism with a human face'. But how do you measure your performance and impact? What do you consider the milestones in the decade you head this all important section within UNWTO?

EY: Thanks for this consideration, I must agree that our goals are ambitious, but we have a solid programme of work that addresses very practical fields of application. Positive impacts occur at many levels as a result of our activities, but it is very difficult to analyse and evaluate all of them. Once again, the survey of the impacts of the IYE 2002 is a good example of the results of our activities in a specific field.

In the international scene UNWTO's work has been instrumental over the last eight years or so to encourage a wide recognition of tourism as an important factor in the global sustainability agenda. Key events have been the inclusion of a specific chapter on sustainable tourism in the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, or the Declaration on "Harnessing Tourism for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)" that was adopted in September 2005 by a representative group of governments, industry leaders, UN specialized agencies and civil society leaders, on the eve of the United Nations Special Summit to review the implementation of the MDGs, in New York. In our Sustainable Tourism - Eliminating Poverty initiative (ST-EP), also launched in Johannesburg, we have a growing portfolio of projects injecting direct technical assistance and support to local communities to produce tangible impacts on the ground.

We modestly feel that we have generated an almost unanimous awareness among the National Tourism Administrations of our 150 Member States about the need to adopt sustainable tourism policies, to establish planning and development guidelines that ensure the sustainability of the sector and that it contributes to the overall sustainable development of societies, and that the tourism industry needs continuous monitoring of its impacts. Furthermore, most governments and the private tourism have now at their disposal a substantive body of knowledge and specific techniques or methodologies generated by UNWTO to put these principles into practice.

WTO became a specialised agency of the UN, at a difficult time for the UN, when some thought it was being side-stepped through unilateralism. Can UNWTO enforce its decisions so that they are not politely ignored by national governments, indeed when not all major powers are members of UNWTO?

EY: UNWTO is a membership organization, with 150 Member States and some 350 Affiliate Members from the private and academic sectors. The Organization is a global forum for tourism policy issues and we assist our members in their tourism development efforts, but they are the principal decision-makers in their respective countries, companies and jurisdictions; in other words, national and local governments as well as the tourism private sector are eventually responsible for ensuring the long-term sustainability of this important socio-economic activity. It is difficult if not impossible for UNWTO to ensure that all countries and all tourism stakeholders follow the guidelines we produce. Regretfully, it is not among UNWTO's mandate to "enforce" decisions, but we are advocating and providing as much advice as we can to ensure that countries do implement such decisions and the policies that we recommend.

Some worry about the fact that UNWTO is the only UN Agency with private companies, indeed the tourism industry's most powerful, as Members. Do you feel this will continue to be so, do to the dominant role that the private sector plays in tourism, will other UN Agencies even copy the UNWTO's hybrid structure? Or will UNWTO gradually come closer to the structure of the rest of the UN, with more civil society organisations, NGOs and trade unions acquiring observer status, or even Membership?

EY: Through its "hybrid structure" UNWTO is open to all the sectors involved in tourism, among our Affiliate Members there are also NGOs, academic institutions, local and regional authorities, and we have the Business, Education and Destination Councils with specific programme of work catering for their needs. Within the UN family we strive to play a coordinating role on tourism issues, given that a range of other UN agencies have tourism-related activities. These efforts are addressed through the UN Tourism Exchange Network, currently being established, and through a number of agreements and joint projects with other UN organizations (e.g. with UNEP for environmental protection issues, UNESCO for cultural heritage conservation through tourism, ILO for labour issues in tourism, UNICEF for the protection of children against sexual exploitation, etc).

The eradication of extreme Poverty is at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals. You have just launched an initiative, the ST-EP Foundation which focuses on precisely that. Was this foundation a result of the need for better cooperation, communication and flexibility amidst the sometimes bureaucratic/chaotic international sustainability discourse, or does this foundation also bring some new ideas in the fight against extreme poverty?

EY: I believe that the ST-EP initiative, which is an umbrella programme of UNWTO, has all the aims you mention. The ST-EP Foundation itself is a key mechanism within this initiative to raise funds from a diversity of sources and to deliver technical assistance to poor countries and communities for poverty-related tourism projects. Besides the activities financed through this Foundation we have also produced a series of technical publications to formulate practical recommendations on how tourism potentials can be maximized for poverty reduction purposes; we have organized a series of capacity building seminars -nine so far- to train national and local officials in poor countries, as well as local NGOs and community associations in order to enable them to set up micro-tourism enterprises, or to raise the proportion of benefits of traditional forms of tourism that go to the poor. Since we started this series in 2004, more than 700 people in developing countries have been trained to these purposes.

Besides fighting extreme poverty in the developing world, labour rights, social insurance / the pensions question in the developed world, must also be part of Sustainable Tourism, at a time when we are witnessing labour unrest in major European countries. Is the UNWTO contemplating any initiatives to avoid labour unrest in the tourism sector, a sector sometimes criticised for its seasonality and the unofficial / uninsured status of many of its employees, many of whom, thanks to the labour-intensive and relatively low-skill nature of Tourism, are actually immigrants from the developing world?

EY: Yes, there are various initiatives addressing these issues, such as the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (approved by the UN General Assembly) which has a specific article on the "Rights of the workers and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry", collaborations with the International Labour Organization, or studies on policy tools and good practices on how to reduce the seasonality of the sector and diversify its activities, which are also key aims of our technical cooperation projects.

Sex tourism: a taboo topic, with well-known, permanent sex tourism destinations around the world, but also temporary ones, through the hosting of major sport events. This summer, the World Cup took place in Germany, and a major petition among European MPs tried to prevent the usual rise in sexual tourism and trafficking. Does / should the UNWTO play a role in this sensitive issue, or is it really up to what national governments and local societies wish to tolerate?

EY: I do not think sex tourism should be a taboo topic, it is an unfortunate reality and UNWTO is openly addressing this issue, for example through the International Campaign Against Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism and our cooperation with UNICEF and other bodies.

And finally, since we brought up football, do you see UNWTO as a referee, a star player, or as the organising body?

EY: Football is a team sport, and in tourism there are many teams needed at the international, national and local levels to strengthen partnerships that make tourism work for the sustainable development objectives. UNWTO, as the UN Agency specialised in tourism, has a fair share in the 3 roles you mention: principally as an organizer and coordinator, but also as a team player, in partnership with other UN Agencies and partner organizations, as well as a generator of information and analyses of international tourism trends that provide information and guidance to the many players of the tourism sector. In a stricter sense, we would prefer that our member governments, local authorities, the tourism private sector and civil society organizations be the real players, and we assist them to make tourism happen in a sustainable and successful way. And finally, I would say, let the host communities and the tourists be the referees in order to see whether tourism indeed contributes to their wellbeing by providing job and business opportunities while preserving natural and cultural resources, and also a high quality and meaningful tourist experience that increases mutual understanding of cultures and appreciation of local values. Thanks for this interview. Thank you very much

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here


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