Still a new term

THE microwave oven, walkman and VCR. These are all the wonderful inventions that Generation X can stake claim to.

Another interesting product of this era is a heavily used but poorly defined term: “sustainble development”, which has since been popularised, abused and occasionally utilised appropriately.

Although the VCR has since died out, the term “sustainable development” is still new, relative to the wealth of attempts that have been made to understand what the combined words mean.

Likened to the Holy Bible, the term has been so well defined and redefined to fit everyone’s needs that it is now virtually undefinable and meaningless.

However, the more widely accepted definition of the term is presented by the Brundtland Commission Report of 1987 which states “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Applying sustainable development to tourism takes on a somewhat similar dimension, where sustainable tourism development is positioned in some literature as “refers broadly to environmental management in the mainstream tourism industry, not restricted to ecotourism” and most importantly “tourism development that must impact people across space, across classes and groups and across time in a manner that provides benefits to all, now and in the future”.

The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) presents an all-encompassing definition where “sustainable tourism development meets the needs of the present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems”.

It is vital to acknowledge that the tourism sector comprised various components.

Tourism activities blanket a much wider range of operators, who all play an integral role in contributing towards the tourism product.

Transport (land, sea and air), food and beverage, entertainment, souvenirs and even advertising to name but a few, are all components of the tourism product.

For tourism to be considered sustainable, it would mean putting in place mechanisms, to ensure that sustainability is evident in all components of the sector, and not just the end product nor experience.

Although the list is inexhaustible, five tools to achieving sustainble tourism development are briefly explored in this paper.

Impact assessments

Impact assessments are methods of studying and evaluating the impact of an activity to a certain area.

Ideally impact assessments are best carried out prior to embarking on a project, including stakeholders made up of all sectors within the tourism industry, so that all facets of the proposed activity are discussed in detail and their impacts realised.

Usually environmental impact assessments (EIA) form the basis of most public consultations, including landowning units, members of civil society organisations and investors, to determine the impact that the development would have on the environment.

Depending on the depth and scope of the EIA, a robust assessment would take into consideration impacts on the physical, social/cultural and the economic environment.

Indicators for sustainable tourism

There is also the option to employ the use of indicators. Specifically those which are used respond to the key risks and concerns regarding sustainability of tourism. Some examples of indicators that could be used in the South Pacific could be:

* Environmental — related to conservation where credible data is collected on the types and numbers of endemic or endangered species over a period of time, which can be further analysed to gauge the imapct of tourism. The increase or decline in the numbers of flora and/or fauna can act as indicators of sustainable practice.

* People and Spaces — during the peak season to calculate how many people are present per square meter at a popular location, for example a tourist beach. A high percentage of people per square meter would indicate that the beach is overcrowded. One could then work out a quota, to ensure tourists are accorded the experience they paid for, while ensuring minimal stress on the surroundings.

* Patricia Mallam, CMP is a tourism development and strategic communications specialist based in Fiji. The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the author and not The Fiji Times. For the full version of the article including references, please contact the author on email: p@pmallam.com.

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