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leo_brincat
Leo Brincat

Is Malta well geared for eco tourism?

A walk through a rainforest elsewhere is not eco tourism unless that particular walk somehow benefits the environment and the people who live there.

leo_brincat
Leo Brincat
11 November 2015, 7:38am
The word eco tourism is frequently mentioned both overseas and locally but experts  in the field will be the first to argue that it is perhaps the most over used and misused word in the travel industry.

A walk through a rainforest elsewhere is not eco tourism unless that particular walk somehow benefits the environment and the people who live there.

We might not have rainforests but a loose definition of eco tourism often allows many companies to promote themselves as something they are not. 

The best question one can ask on eco tourism is whether any trip will help conserve and improve the places one might plan to visit.

Eco tourism and sustainable tourism are first of all not the same thing.

Eco tourism, if applied well and not through lip service, can promote better or greater understanding and appreciation for nature, local society and culture too.

But to be for real, eco tourism must be all about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel.

When we speak of education in eco tourism this should also include tourism-related staff and guests too.

With advances in transportation and information technology even the most remote places on earth are within reach of the traveller. So we must wake up to the fact that tourism is now not only the world’s largest industry but nature tourism is also the fastest growing segment too.

There should be no doubt that before deciding to go for eco tourism we must accept the fact that it is time for a new travel ethic to be adopted and embraced.

Travel and tourism, if sustainably developed, have the potential to contribute directly or indirectly to all of the sustainable development goals.

After all tourism has been included as a specific target on three major goals – 8, 12, and 14 on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, sustainable consumption and production and the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources.

When we develop such proposals as laid down in the budget to address plastic littering on land and sea in a robust manner through the disposal of plastic bottles and aluminium cans, we are unwittingly making Malta more eco tourism friendly whether we have planned to do so or not.

The tourism trade is based on eco tourism principles that can play an important part in making sustainable development goals a reality.

Eco tourism can offer market linked long term solutions by providing effective economic incentives for conserving and enhancing bio cultural diversity and helping protect the natural and cultural heritage of our island.

Increasing tourism to sensitive natural areas without appropriate planning and management can threaten the integrity of eco systems and local cultures.

The increase of visitors to ecologically sensitive areas can actually lead to significant environmental degradation.

Most tourism in natural areas today is NOT eco tourism and neither is it sustainable.

Eco tourism is distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, components for both the traveller and local communities.

Eco tourism encourages visitors to a country to leave a small carbon footprint to the benefit of local communities and environments.

Eco tourism now has UN backing that dates back to 2002 when an international year for eco tourism had been actually marked in the global calendar.

If a resort becomes over developed then people will choose alternative destinations.

As an expert in the tourism trade just pointed out to me – we are an island of a few hundred sq kms.

Our size is such that we have limits to our carrying capacity.

We seem unwilling or afraid to engage in the debate as to maximum levels of carrying capacity.

If we continue to ignore this debate we risk waking up one morning to find that what the tourists are visiting us for has disappeared.

We need to instill in the people’s minds and mentality that what we have has been loaned to us and we need to look after it so that our children will be able to enjoy it as much as we have enjoyed it over the years.

leo_brincat
Leo Brincat is Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment, and Climate Change
DealToday
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