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International Year of Ecotourism 2002

The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE). The IYE offers an opportunity to review ecotourism experiences worldwide, in order to consolidate tools and institutional frameworks that ensure its sustainable development in the future. This means maximizing the economic, environmental and social benefits from ecotourism, while avoiding its past shortcomings and negative impacts.


The activities around the International Year of Ecotourism have the following goals:

  • Generate greater awareness among public authorities, the private sector, the civil society and consumers regarding ecotourism's capacity to contribute to the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage in natural and rural areas, and the improvement of living standards in those areas;
  • Disseminate methods and techniques for the planning, management, regulation and monitoring of ecotourism to guarantee its long-term sustainability; and
  • Promote exchanges of experiences in the field of ecotourism.

International Year of Ecotourism - Background

In July 1998 the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) proposed to members of the UN General Assembly to designate 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE).

The members of ECOSOC consider the designation of the IYE as an encouragement for intensified cooperative efforts by Governments and international and regional organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations, to achieve the aims of Agenda 21 in promoting development and the protection of the environment.

Recognizing the growing importance of ecotourism, the UN General Assembly in December 1998 accepted the proposal and declared 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism. The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and other venues were advised to implement the Year. Within the UN system the CSD's Interagency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD) mandated the World Tourism Organization (WTO/OMT) and UNEP to prepare and coordinate supportive activities for and during the year.

What is ecotourism? Much has been written about ecotourism, but there is little consensus about its meaning, due to the many forms in which ecotourism activities are offered by a large and wide variety of operators, and practised by an even larger array of tourists. While there is not a universal definition for ecotourism, its general characteristics can be summarised as follows:
  1. All nature-based forms of tourism in which the main motivation of the tourists is the observation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas
  2. It contains educational and interpretation features
  3. It is generally, but not exclusively organised for small groups by specialised and small, locally owned businesses. Foreign operators of varying sizes also organise, operate and/or market ecotourism tours, generally for small groups.
  4. It minimises negative impacts upon the natural and socio-cultural environment
  5. It supports the protection of natural areas by
    • generating economic benefits for host communities, organisations and authorities managing natural areas with conservation purposes,
    • providing alternative employment and income opportunities for local communities,
    • increasing awareness towards the conservation of natural and cultural assets, both among locals and tourists.
Over the years, it has also become clear that some concerns still need to be wholly addressed in ecotourism, such as:
  • land tenure and control of the ecotourism development process by host communities,
  • efficiency and fairness of the current concept of protected areas for protection of biological and cultural diversity
  • the need for additional precautions and monitoring when operating in especially sensitive areas
  • indigenous and traditional rights in areas suitable for ecotourism development
Is sustainable tourism the same as ecotourism? The principles of sustainable tourism were defined by WTO as early as 1988; sustainable tourism is "envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems". A clear distinction should be made between the concepts of ecotourism and sustainable tourism: the term ecotourism itself refers to a segment within the tourism sector, while the sustainability principles should apply to all types of tourism activities, operations, establishments and projects, including conventional and alternative forms.

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Declaring the year 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism

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