- Published: Friday, 28 November 2008 00:04
|The first in the series of four workshops on sustainable tourism under the auspices of the Tourism Administration and the Eilat Municipality was held in Eilat on Sunday 23.11.2008. For those who missed it, here is what it covered. [Read more]|
The first in the series of four workshops on sustainable tourism under the auspices of the Tourism Administration and the Eilat Municipality was held in Eilat on Sunday 23.11.2008. The workshops, taking place at the Ecological Dome on Jerusalem Street, will be held once a week. Attended by representatives from various branches of tourism and from environmental/ecological branches (with the NRPA notably absent), the workshop is offered by Professor Yoel Mansfeld, director of the Centre for Tourism Study at Haifa University.
The session was opened by organiser Yael Edri inviting the mayor of Eilat to speak. Meir Itzhak Halevi spoke about the importance of sustainable tourism, particularly in a city whose whole livelihood depends on tourism based on natural resources. He mentioned the Eilat-Eilot renewable energy policy, the fact that the fish cages in the sea are now gone, that much of the local desert is designated as nature reserves, the solar energy initiatives, bike paths, the Birdwatching Centre, underwater attractions, and that 4-5 municipal bylaws are being passed to protect the environment.
Shmulik Tagar, chairman of the Tourism Administration, then spoke briefly, presenting Prof. Mansfeld's credentials in his work with ecotourism and mentioning that there is a new ‘Green' Society headed by Alon Tal that he considers more serious than the existing Green party.
Dorit Benet, director of the Eilat-Eilot Environmental Unit was next, discussing the difficulty in achieving balance when working with already-existing beaches and businesses, the balance between financial and ecological realities that must be found, and the need to be realistic when trying to draw different branches together to achieve a goal.
Rona Shapira, who set up and maintains the Ecological Dome, spoke very briefly about the dome's role in education, and explained how it uses natural lighting, natural air flow, grey water re-usage, and items like the chairs and tables we were using made from recycled rubbish.
Professor Yoel Mansfeld then stood up and began the lecture. He mentioned that in 1994 he had given Eilat's then-mayor Gabi Kadosh a project plan for environmentally sensitive Eilat, well before the state of Israel got on the bandwagon regarding sustainable tourism. A lot can be accomplished even under pre-existing conditions, he said. The points he made, accompanied by a slide show, included the below.
Understanding the whys and hows of sustainable tourism:
* increased awareness and demand
* increased quality of life, health
* ageing of the population
* changes in leisure choices and availability
* the importance of service quality
* progress in global communication and technology
* natural sites often considered ‘better' regarding safety and security issues
* increased environmental awareness, political correctness
* development of guidelines regarding sustainable tourism
The Brontland Committee in 1987 stated the first version of sustainable tourism, defined as the development to meet present needs without harming future generations.
Prof. Mansfeld noted that application is dependent on constraints, and definitions serve the definer.
The Earth Summit in 1992 endorsed the Agenda 21 plan, which provided a set of principles for sustainable development.
World Tourism Organisation (WTO) in 1997 discussed sustainable tourism as both ecological and sociological in regard to the indigenous peoples or local populations present.
Ecotourism was defined as the practical side of sustainable tourism, and essentially has two meanings:
1) An approach to environmental management of tourist sites;
2) A tourist product for environmentally minded tourists. This, however, can be like the golem turning on its master when the world's last wilderness sites turn into commercialised ecotourism sites.
The IUCN (World Conservation Union) in 1994 talked about random visits to undisturbed spots to appreciate nature, conservation, leave minimal footprint, and contribute to the local population. Local populations are often an integral part of the site and its attraction.
A popular definition of wilderness tourism is "pay money to suffer in a natural environment", so you can say that you "had a genuine, unmediated nature experience" while also saying that you "contributed" by paying for this expensive tour.
Regarding demand potential, profit is a central condition. No solid statistical tracking has been carried out by environmental concerns, such as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), for example, to present businesses with. The first reaction by businesses to the idea of going greener is invariably "more costs". Dr. Reuven Yosef, director of the Birdwatching Centre, spoke up to say that indeed the WTTC approached the hotels in Eilat in 1996, and they "didn't want to hear about it."
Ecotourism has seen a 7%-30% increase, depending on the definition used. For example, people listed as members in eco-groups or not, or combining an ecotour with a business trip, going on hikes or busses or camping where headcounts are made, areas such as birdwatching, etc. All show a growing trend in ecotourism.
The extreme ends of ecotourism are better known than the middle range. These are:
* Hard - wilderness tourists (‘pay money to suffer') and such;
* Soft - package tours that might happen to include a nature visit. Soft has become ever more prevalent as mass tourism operators jump on the lucrative ‘eco' bandwagon. The expensive lodges and jeep safaris in Kenya are an example.
In 1997 the WTO put ecotourism as 20% of the industry.
The year 2002 was designated an International Year of Ecotourism to promote sustainable tourism in general and ecotourism in particular.
‘Positioning' is based on the quality and nature of a product in the market. Eilat sought out certain sectors of tourism, but can change the product and target populations if it chooses. Regional competition is part of the need for product differentiation and Eilat is better adapted and capable to implement ecotourism than Sinai, for example, which talks ‘green' far more than it implements it. Hence there is a financial as well as ecological incentive to promote ecotourism in Eilat.
How to instil ecotourism in business and tourism organisations. There are three levels addressed:
1) Conceptual level: workshops. BEST (Business Enterprise Sustainable Tourism). Not impose from above, but work from the ground up through business and education. BEST funded instruction kits to be used with businesses.
2) Didactic level: teaching, starting with youth. Tovah Kalman did a one-time project in the Eilati schools, but this education needs to be a central and ongoing subject.
3) Organisational level: the responsibility to create and enforce standards, also to give incentives.
An increase in tourism brings about various results:
a) Pressure on the sites and the local population;
b) Less new sites;
c) Uncontrolled development. This leads to harm to sites, negative social consequences such as crime or prostitution, decreased tourist satisfaction, and an uncontrolled economy.
Ultimately this leads to reduced tourist resources in a country.
The NPRA (Nature Reserves and Parks Authority) was originally appointed as a government body to enforce conservation, but due to lack of funds it has turned more to tourism than enforcement.
Mass tourism trends:
I. In 70's and 80's it was the Three S's: Sun, Sea, and Sand (and ‘Stalbet' [lay about just relaxing] and Safe Sex!', Prof. Mansfeld added laughingly).
II. Recognition of negative tourism impact on locals.
III. Development of ‘alternative tourism', which is basically just more of the same under new marketing such as ‘New Age' or other labels.
IV. Sustainable tourism is the present one, but we are actually in the end of it. It had a short shelf life because it brought an ideology from on high without adequate practical application.
V. Ethics in tourism - eco-labelling, measures, behavioural rules, quality labels, ‘green' labels, guidelines.
So you set standards, but who enforces them? A third party? Tourists? Standards equal money, outlay for those seeking a rating and cash cow for those conferring it. Green Globe, headed by Geoff Litman after his retirement from WTTO, was the first to measure the ‘greenness' of businesses. Others then copied the idea but at cheaper costs.
Businesses go through fads. There was TQM, now there is ‘coaching'. Cruise ships have also come back into vogue.
Trying to set a universal standard or utopia is a mistake. Standards have to be attainable. Litman's organisation found itself in a situation of either having to cut some corners or quit, and the group chose the former. A hotel in Scotland was hard pressed to eco-fit itself in time for the imminent tourist season but had tried to the extent it could, so begged the group to waive the remainder - so it did.
Either tourism sites will individually make themselves sustainable, or a new ideology will replace sustainable tourism. Few groups set standards adapted to the local situation, to what elementary things should be mandatory and what additional things are desired and attainable.
What is agreed on:
- natural versus social/cultural sites. Nature is a criteria more easily agreed on than social.
- build awareness, interaction, narrative, regarding conservation of the site/people.
- awareness and responsibility for nature and the culture by both tour operators and tourists.
- act to reduce harm to environment, e.g. greenhouse gasses, not just by offsetting but better yet by prevention. Dorit Benet spoke up about having the hotels use solar energy as an applicable example that could and should be done.
- provide financial incentive for conservation, with people knowing their money will be used for that purpose. CC Africa (Conservation Corporation Africa) was mentioned as an outstanding example of this. It is a private business that has some 40-50 lodges in Africa. It goes around looking for sites to re-introduce animals that have been killed off by displaced populations who had been relocated due to mining. The people were given jobs, respect, education, and awareness. An infrastructure was built for them including things like HIV clinics. The locals were trained to become rangers, cooks, and other jobs. 20% of the company's profits from tourism to the lodges goes to the community, and tourists are requested to donate an optional 5% of their table to an international trust for same. The response is huge, as is the demand for the company's services.
- contribution to empowerment of the local community. As above. David Lewis of Isrotel was mentioned as doing this in Eilat.
- respects local population.
- is managed sustainably.
There are three components involved, each partially overlapping the other: the tourist, the tourism space, and the industry.
At this point the workshop, which had run overtime, ended so that Prof. Mansfeld would not miss his plane. Next week he will out of the country, so the workshop will be led by Michal Wiemer of [something tourism related whose name I missed].