WASHINGTON - December 13 - The heavy load international travelers are placing on the world's tourist spots is becoming unbearable, according to a new report urging action by the tourism industry and governments to protect people, natural environments, and cultural heritage sites from further destruction.
Every year agricultural land half the size of Paris is cleared for golf courses, cruise ships discharge an estimated 90,000 tons of raw sewage into the oceans, and air transport pumps out ever-growing amounts of polluting gases which contribute to global warming, says the report released today by the United States-based Worldwatch Institute.
'Traveling Light: New Paths for International Tourism' finds that over the past 50 years the number of tourists crossing international borders has grown 28-fold from about 25 million to almost 700 million, leading to increases in air pollution, human waste, loss of land and water, and habitat destruction.
As national parks, remote villages, and underwater paradises become inundated with visitors, not only is a strain placed on scarce natural resources, but pristine locations are sullied by trash, wildlife is frightened off, vegetation is trampled, and eventually tourists lose interest.
The answer, suggests the report's author Lisa Mastney, lies in greater efforts toward building "sustainable tourism", defined as careful management of resources so that the needs of tourists, local people, and the environment can all be fulfilled.
Thailand awards one to five "green leaves" to hotels that follow environmentally friendly policies, and a SmartVoyager campaign in Ecuador's Galapagos Island certifies ships operating in the area for careful management of wastewater and fuel, according to the report.
Governments, the report concludes, could play a more active role by regulating some aspects of tourism, such as the number of visitors to historic sites, as well as by offering tax or other incentives as a reward for responsible tour practices. One simple move would be to provide strategically located trash deposit points.
Tourists, meanwhile, should work through companies committed to sustainable tourism and "travel with an awareness of [their] larger impact on Earth." Conservation International, Responsible Travel, and the International Ecotourism Society all offer advice to tourists on enjoying a "green" vacation.
The report comes one day after a grouping of states in the Caribbean region agreed to set up the world's first sustainable tourism zone.
The Greater Caribbean region's 28 countries--which include those in Central America as well as the West Indies--favored setting up the zone because of the importance of tourism as a major source of foreign exchange revenue in the region.
Worldwatch's Mastney says that for many of the world's poorest countries, tourism is the second largest source of foreign exchange, after oil. "Tourism is the only economic sector where developing countries consistently run a trade surplus," she said.
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