Confab on Policy Mainstreaming for Sustainable Tourism

Confab on Policy Mainstreaming for Sustainable Tourism Confab on Policy Mainstreaming for Sustainable Tourism

A two-day UN Symposium on sustainable tourism started Tuesday in Tehran.  It was attended by senior government officials, namely First-Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri, Vice-President and Head of the Department of Environment (DoE) Masoumeh Ebtekar, and Vice President and tourism chief Masoud Solftanifar.  Representatives from the UN, academics, and tourism experts from Iran as well as Japan, Germany, South Korea, US, India, Cambodia, Madagaskar, Kenya, Indonesia, Sri Lanks, and Armenia were also present.

The aim of the conference is to mainstream sector policies into an integrated, national and sustainable development plan, which enhances sustainable tourism, urbanization, resource efficiency, biodiversity and environmental protection.

Morteza Rahmani Movahed, deputy head of the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization (ICHTO), initiated his opening speech by providing some background on the sustainability concept.  “Sustainability issues were initially raised in 1972 at the Berlin Conference. Since then, it has widely entered into many fields, including tourism.”

Sustainability strives to strike a balance between the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development. The aim of sustainable tourism is to maximize the benefits while safeguarding cultural heritage and the living culture, as well as minimizing negative environmental and social impacts, Rahmani Movahed said. At the moment sustainability can be evidenced in the more alternative branches of tourism for instance, ‘ecotourism’ and ‘cultural tourism’. However all areas of tourism no matter their motivation, be it holidays, business travel, conferences or adventure travel must be sustainable, he added.

Gary Lewis, the UN Resident Coordinator in Iran, as the next speaker said, “In the 27 years of working with the UN and traveling to nearly 70 countries, I found Iran one of the most charming, in many respects, 7000-years of civilization, various natural resources and above all its warm people”. He also drew attention to the immense tourism potential in the country, and named medical tourism, a multi-billion dollar market in the world, as among the most recent emerging markets.

Masoud Soltanifar, vice-president and head of (CHHTO) also addressed the meeting, highlighting the role that tourism can and should play in reaching the Millenium Development Goals by alleviating poverty and fostering gender equity.

He also pointed to the extensive work that needs to be undertaken in the country to reach the target 20 million tourists per the 2025 Out Look Plan Document, from the current 4.5 million adding the country must take some gigantic steps, necessitating the doubling of efforts.

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, (DESA), Wu Hongbo following on from Lewis, emphasized the role of tourism in the world and its contribution to world economy.  In 2013 tourism accounted for 9.5% of the global economy and generated 1 out of 11 employment opportunities worldwide. The industry is now the most rapidly growing economic sector in the world, yhe added.  

It is estimated that in 2014 some 5 to 6 billion people will make a holiday sojourn in their own country, while more than 1.1 billion people will visit another country as tourists.

“ Developing countries account for 45% of the international tourists arrivals, and attract 35% of the revenues.”, he added.

For tourism to be sustainable, investments need to be carefully planned in order to ensure that public and private investments yield optimal dividends, and that host communities, as the most important beneficiaries of tourism, derive fair benefits. Also great care should be given to the environment and biodiversity.

In the concluding panels, issues such as models for integrated tourism planning for sustainability development, and tourism development trends in Philippines, India, and Japan were discussed by tourism experts.