The Holy See
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Tuesday, 21 May 2002



The contemporary world is developing rapidly; it is essential and urgently necessary to find solutions to its problems in a context where the phenomenon of globalization concerns the realm of politics and economics, and the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of the human being.

In this context, although the tourism sector has "just emerged from adolescence" and appears as an industry that is still fragile and changing, it is the third largest export industry in the world. The role that tourism plays in the phenomenon of globalization is particularly important when one considers that it is an industry that, rather than export merchandise, imports consumers. This observation emphasizes the fact that, from an economic point of view for this sector, the most important "factor" is the place of production, for it is the place itself that is the product.

However, if one looks beyond the economic sphere and takes into account the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions, one can see that they are an integral and essential feature of the place; yet, despite that fact, they risk undergoing profound changes that will take place causing irreparable damage to the "raw material" of tourism and even worse, of violating the human dignity of local peoples if the influx of people that tourism creates is not properly directed to safeguarding these features. "Nor can we forget", as the Holy Father recently recalled, "those special offers to tourists of "artificial paradises' where, for mere commercial purposes, peoples and local cultures are exploited for the benefit of a tourism which in some cases does not even respect the most basic human rights of the local people" (Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, n. 2, 29 April 2002: ORE, 8 May 2002, p. 11).

Such an observation has obliged the experts and people who work in this sector to define short- and long-term strategies which, among other things, have given rise to a new typology of tourism:  ecotourism, outlined by the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and adopted by the World Tourism Organization in October 1999.

The precise goal of our meeting is to reach a better understanding of this concept, which is still open to a variety of interpretations. Many participants would like our discussion to offer useful guidance to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, that will take place in Johannesburg from 26 August until 4 September. There is some overlapping between ecotourism and sustainable development, which is based on the idea of keeping together three aspects of development:  the economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Ecotourism: safeguard the natural heritage, the spiritual, religious and cultural values of the sites
For its part, the Holy See also wants to contribute to the discussion by indicating certain principles and values that are or should be the basis of ecotourism. Effectively, ecotourism must not be limited to bringing tourists into contact with unpolluted nature or with rural societies; it must also become a concrete means of safeguarding the natural heritage and, especially, cultural, spiritual and religious traditions.

Recalling the first principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted in 1992:  "the human being is at the centre of concerns for sustainable development", it is clear that for the development of ecotourism the central character of the human being is the indispensable pointer for the development of ecotourism. Such an approach entails the revision and reorganization of operational systems that aim to take an immediate economic and financial profit, to the detriment of sustainable ecotourism which requires the preservation of the common cultural heritage. Actually, ecotourism offers a chance to give priority not just to commercial initiatives, but to save a large place for the human, cultural and spiritual values, with the help of the primary agents who are concerned.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English n.25 p.10.