With 1.2 billion tourists crossing borders each year, tourism has a profound and wide-ranging impact on societies, the environment and the economy. Representing 10% of world GDP, 1 in 10 jobs in the global economy and 7% of global exports, we know tourism has a crucial role to play in accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This is especially true in the Pacific region, where tourism is already one of the region's most established and economically viable sectors. According to the World Bank, total tourism spending in Pacific Island countries for 2013 amounted to US$1.4 billion. But we understand that not all Pacific countries benefit equally from tourism, hence environmental, social and cultural impacts of increasing tourist volumes need to be carefully managed.
As part of the recent Pacific Preparatory Session for the Asia Pacific Sustainable Development Forum, held in Nadi, Fiji in October, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) brought together a panel of experts working on a range of different tourism focused partnerships, to share their experience and explore the possibilities for innovation and collaboration. The case studies were selected on the basis of their potential for expansion, replication and linkages to the SDGs.
The South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) led the session by providing an evidence-based assessment of tourism activity in the region and their work to develop a sustainable tourism accreditation framework to help operators manage their social and environmental impacts, this work includes a online dashboard where businesses are able to track their sustainability progress online.
Director of the Palau Tourism Office, Kevin Mesabaluu, spoke about Palau’s efforts to protect and promote its natural heriage site in partnership with tourism operators and tourists themselves. Palau’s experience emphasized the need for coherent policy on sustainable tourism from central government level, down through local authorities and private sector entities.
Palau has also led the world with the implementation of the Palau Pledge which requires all the island nation’s visitors to sign an agreement not to damage or exploit the natural resources. Tourists are also charged a USD $100 levy as part of their airline ticket, which is used to fund a range of sustainability initiatives including Palau’s Marine Protected Area, one of the largest in the world.
Eliza Raymond, from Good Travel, a global social enterprise then outlined the demand from travelers for ‘good’ (or sustainable) travel experience. Good Travel offers a model for helping travelers connect with communities and learn about sustainability while they travel. Raymond shared their experience of organising trips to Fiji, and their plans for Kiribati, city tours and the potential for social enterprise within the tourism sector.
The need to monitor and manage less-desirable impacts of tourism was the focus of a case study presented by Iris Low-Mackenzie, the CEO of Save the Children Fiji. She outlined how Save the Children was working with the private sector to ensure tourism operators have policies and procedures in place to ensure that people do not travel with the intention to hurt children and ensure those working with children are appropriately trained.
Finally, Fiji-based Uprising Beach Resort presented a local sustainability story and detailed the programme of work to make the property sustainable, and eventually carbon neutral. James Pridgeon, representing Uprising, spoke of their partnership with CSO Mangroves for Fiji, to replant mangroves around the resort by involving the local community as well as their guests. Pridgeon emphasised that sustainability and environmental stewardship was not always the cheapest way, but it was an important from an integrity point of view.
Pridgeon closed the case-study component of the panel, with a powerful message around the need for all individuals to embrace new ways of working and “to be the change, they wished to see in the world”.
Following the presentations, participants engaged in a comprehensive Q&A with the panelists, traversing areas such as managing the imperative for profit and increasing tourist numbers, environmental sustainability, and the need for innovative ideas and models (like those from the case studies) to be applied to non-traditional markets in the region.
With clear links to the SDGs throughout, the strong message from the session was that by working together, policy makers, communities, the private sector and travellers can harness tourism’s power to provide long-lasting benefits to the Pacific and drive positive development outcomes.
As follow-up to the session, UNDP will be working with presenters to further share their work and facilitate connections and opportunities within the tourism sector around the region.
Please get in touch, if you have examples or ideas on sustainable tourism and SDG achievement in the Pacific or would like to know more about any of these case studies.
Full presentations are available below.