Over 150 participants from 30 countries gathered in St Denis, La Reunion, at the UNWTO/Government of France Conference on Sustainable Development of Tourism in Islands, and called for tourism to be placed as a key element in the debate on sustainable development in Islands.
In recognition of the importance of tourism to the economy and sustainable development of many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and other islands, and the specific opportunities and challenges for islands in pursuing sustainable tourism, the Conference called on UN bodies and other international agencies, the governments of SIDS, the national and local authorities of other islands and the tourism industry , to place tourism as a priority in the development agenda of islands.
The UNWTO/Government of France Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development highlighted the following key issues:
- Tourism as a key driver of sustainable development in islands - for many islands, tourism is the single most important economic activity, with clear opportunities for future growth. Therefore tourism must feature strongly on the sustainable development agenda of islands and be given high priority in programmes to support SIDS and other island territories.
- Natural and cultural heritage as primary assets for island tourism - tourism is well placed to generate awareness and support for the unique biodiversity and rich cultural heritage of islands, on which it depends. Tourism development must be carefully planned and managed so that it has a positive impact on island resources, environments and communities and responds to the challenges of climate change.
- Partnerships as a basis for achieving more together - groups of islands can be more effective if they work together on the promotion of sustainable tourism. The Vanilla Islands initiative linking seven Indian Ocean island territories – Comoros, La Reunion, Madagascar, Maldives, Mayotte, Mauritius and Seychelles – is welcomed as an example of the partnership approach.
- Connectivity of islands as a prerequisite for success in tourism - Island destinations are dependent on air transport to provide effective access to source markets. Tourism and transport policies must be coordinated to pursue optimal growth in connectivity and secure economic benefits for island communities.
The conference programme was shaped around six sessions covering the following topics: tourism development and the conservation of island resources; sustainable economic development; connectivity and transport; the impacts of climate change; regional initiatives and international cooperation; and putting islands on the map.
The detailed 14 point recommendations drawn from the Conference shall be transmitted by UNWTO to the United Nations Secretariat as the contribution of the tourism sector to the debate on the sustainable development of islands, in view of the Third International Conference on SIDS to be held in Samoa in September 2014. Among the recommendations was the need to engage in the preparation of strategies and action plans for the development of sustainable tourism, reflecting the particular circumstances of different islands and considering their long term position as well as their short term needs, while also making available sufficient financial and human resources for their successful implementation. Another key recommendation was to provide clear, research-based information and guidance to SIDS and other island governments on the impact of climate change on tourism; act now to implement and support practical climate change adaptation measures, and establish and purse low carbon strategies for tourism development.