Tourism must push small island development agenda

Tourism and its impact on all aspects of island economies should top the agenda of the forthcoming Small Island Developing States meeting in Mauritius this August, says the head of a leading development organisation.
Counterpart International’s Lelei LeLaulu allowed that the conference was designed for governments and that bureaucrats would concentrate on aid for the vulnerabilities of small islands. But he urged delegates to move away from the “tin cup mentality” and to adopt a more pro-active stance aggressively promoting the strengths and attractions of the small islands. “The world needs small islands. Islands are the most desirable destination for the world’s largest industry.”

“Give small island people the dignity they deserve and promote their
strengths and their pride in the resilience of their ecologies and cultures that have endured centuries of colonialism and neglect,” said LeLaulu. “Sustainable tourism offers small islands their biggest development tool and the international community should be concentrating on teaching them how to wield it.”

The Mauritius meeting is officially the “International Meeting for the
10-Year Review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of the Small Island Developing States,” and LeLaulu is a Pacific Islander who helped organise the Barbados conference and in fact, with UN Assistant Secretary-General Miles Stoby, coined its slogan, “Small Islands, Big Issues.”

Saying that in the face of rising sea levels and sinking economies it is now “Smaller Islands, Even Bigger Issues,” he maintains that in today’s era of trade liberalisation and crippled island economies, tourism is the best weapon to combat poverty: “Tourism is the only major industry where the consumer goes to the producer and it offers big opportunities to fight poverty at a time of dwindling donor support for development.”

In spite of the efforts made by the small islands, the expectations for
international cooperation to implement the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action have not been met. In fact, overall assistance for small islands actually fell from US$2.3 billion in 1994 to $1.7 billion in 2002. In contrast, “Mauritius, the host for the conference, will this year make close to a billion dollars from the 700,000 plus tourists expected to visit the island nation,” he asserted.

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“Tourism is one of the largest, fastest growing service exports,” said
British expert Geoffrey Lipman, special tourism adviser to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) which recently became a fully-fledged specialised agency of the United Nations. “It stimulates other sectors like agriculture, financial services and manufacturing. It creates people to people links…all the poorest countries have some form of tourism export to offer in their unique nature, culture and heritage,” he said.

Lipman, who is chairman of Green Globe 21 - the worldwide sustainable tourism certification organisation - said that global challenges such as peace, poverty, sustainability and fair trade will not disappear and new ones will emerge. “They can only be dealt with by enlightened action on the part of the international community,” he said, emphasising that WTO’s new UN agency status will help decision makers, inside and outside the UN family, better understand how tourism can play a constructive part in addressing these issues.

Both Lipman and LeLaulu attended TOURCOM last week in Madrid, the first world conference on tourism communications staged by the World Tourism Organisation. TOURCOM was inspired by CMEx, the Counterpart-produced series of Caribbean Media Exchanges on Sustainable Tourism.
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