U.N. Foundation unveils sustainable-tourism guidelines

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BARCELONA -- In an effort to reduce confusion about what constitutes sustainable tourism, media tycoon Ted Turner announced this morning that a set of specific criteria has been developed under the auspices of the United Nations Foundation.

“Right now, there are a hundred different measures out there,” Turner said. “Some are good, some are bad, none are universal.”

Turner, who created the foundation 11 years ago as a mechanism to donate $1 billion to the U.N., made the announcement to 8,000 government officials, representatives from nonprofit groups, business leaders and academics assembled here for the opening of the World Conservation Congress.

He said that although the effort was coordinated by the foundation, the actual guidelines were established by a coalition of 26 organizations, including Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Expedia, Sabre/Travelocity, ASTA and the International Hotel and Restaurant Association.

The coalition, called the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Criteria, received input from 2,500 conservationists, industry leaders, governmental authorities and U.N. bodies, Turner said. The resulting criteria focus on four aspects of sustainability: maximizing tourism’s social and economic benefits to local communities, reducing negative impacts on cultural heritage, reducing harm to local environments and planning for sustainability.

The 40 specific points within the criteria range from respecting the intellectual property rights of local communities to measuring greenhouse gas emissions and implementing procedures to reduce and offset them. To see the complete list of criteria, click here.

In his speech, Turner sought to minimize any industry fears. “I promise you it’s going to be in your interest,” he said. “Sustainable tourism means growing the economy, supporting social progress and protecting the environment.”

Erika Harms, the U.N. Foundation's executive director for sustainable development, said the coalition will now focus its attention on the task of setting benchmarks for the criteria and creating mechanisms for certification.

(Reporter’s note: Two weeks ago, after the sustainability criteria had already been established but not yet announced, Travel Weekly was invited to join the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Criteria, and subsequently accepted. The appointment will become effective later this afternoon.)

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