Breakthrough UN Partnership to Improve Sustainable Travel

Sustainable travel advocates are applauding the recent announcement of the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism, which aims to connect all stakeholders in the sustainable tourism industry.

With the goal of "transforming tourism worldwide" the partnership was appropriately established in Costa Rica at the first General Meeting.

The partnership will be composed of five UN organizations, 18 national governments, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), private companies, and non-profits with the shared goals of improving policies, creating projects, and developing a global communication platform for those involved in the tourism sector.

"The broad geographic scope of the Partnership, as well as the depth of its members' expertise, will enable it to adapt, replicate, and scale-up successful projects initiated by any partner in other regions; engaging the public and private sectors and consumers, identifying and setting-up project funding opportunities and informing on policy which will benefit the development and promotion of sustainability in tourism," said Gérard Ruiz, Chairman of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) serve as key partners in the organization, along with the governments of France, Costa Rica, and Norway. During the first meeting, France was elected as President of the Partnership Steering Committee and Costa Rica as Vice-Chair.

Gina Guillen Grillo, the Senior Advisor to the Minister of Tourism of Costa Rica emphasized the focus on communication between partners, "The Partnership will be an up-to-date, dynamic forum where countries that are interested in tourism which is truly sustainable will be able to learn from the successful efforts of the other members and obtain technical assistance, and which will promote constant dialogue, the exchange of experiences, and seek solutions to the problems that are common to the tourism sector."

The Secretariat of the organization will be organized within UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) located in Paris, and while the goals are global, the focus on developing countries is strong.

Developing countries oftentimes use tourism as a significant part of their income, but many countries have suffered from the environmental degradation suffered by the sudden increase in demand for resources and space.

"The tourism sector has been increasingly recognized as a key engine for economic growth, especially in developing and least developed countries. It is not only responsible for a significant share of world GDP (5%) and employment (6-7%), but is also an important source of foreign investment reaching as much as 30% of the world service's exports. The number of international tourist arrivals is expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2020," said Luigi Cabrini, Director for Sustainable Development of Tourism in the UNWTO.

The group plans to focus on seven main areas: policy frameworks, climate change, environment and biodiversity, poverty alleviation, cultural and natural heritage, sustainable tourism practices for the private sector and finance and investments.

Prior to the creation of the Partnership, several of the supporting organizations were contributing to the Green Economy Initiative, by highlighting the role that sustainable tourism plays in a more environmentally friendly future.