Tourism sector urged to focus on environmental planning

Environmental considerations should be central to the Pacific’s long-term planning for tourism, a conference on the future of the sector has been told. 

The video conference was hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P.) as part of its Environmental Monitoring and Governance programme. 

The internet seminar was titled “Environmental Consideration in Sustainable Tourism in the Pacific Region.”

S.P.R.E.P. said representatives of the Pacific Tourism Organisation (S.P.T.O.) and representatives of the tourism sector shared their thoughts and expertise on the importance of a tourism sector that operates sustainably. 

An Environmental Assessment and Planning Officer from S.P.R.E.P., Dr. Gregory Barbara, presented on the issue of how environmental concerns can be integrated into sustainable tourism planning. Dr. Barbara emphasised the importance of using tools such as the Regional Environmental Impact Assessment (E.I.A.) or Guidelines for Coastal Tourism. 

The guidelines, developed by S.P.R.E.P. in partnership with S.P.T.O., direct tourism developers towards better environmental planning, and environmentally friendly tourism activities. 

They also raise awareness and understanding of the E.I.A. process in the Pacific region’s tourism sector and promote E.I.A. best practice on coastal tourism development, he said. 

Dr. Barbara encouraged Government agencies, resource owners and tourism developers to comply with national E.I.A. regulatory frameworks; and to support sustainable and resilient coastal tourism development to protect environmental, social and cultural assets. 

He said that tourists are often looking for cultural and environmentally friendly options for their holidays.

“Appropriate use of low impact attractions can be a draw-card for these types of holidays,” he added.

He also stated that the E.I.A. process can help to identify environmentally sustainable options for tourism development.

He also touched on the importance of measures such as protecting coral reefs, which provide coastal protection, improving water quality, and attracting both marine life and tourists. 

“Tourism developments and ventures need to protect these areas and not cause unintended impacts through increased demand for fresh fish in restaurants, souvenir trade, waste or poorly guided tours directly damaging corals,” he said. 

The S.P.T.O.’s Sustainable Tourism Planning Manager, Christina Leala-Gale said a number of sustainability initiatives currently exist in the region. These include the Regional E.I.A. Guidelines for Coastal Tourism, Marine Tourism Guidelines, and a monitoring programme for the accommodation sector which measures the impact of tourism on the environment. 

Considering the tourism sector after the coronavirus pandemic is over, Ms. Leala-Gale acknowledged that the Pacific will face a “new normal” based on the goal of creating a stronger, more sustainable, and resilient. 

“We have to be keeping in mind that we cannot isolate the environment from the economic recovery process, so we do look forward to a post-COVID-19 tourism sector,” she said. 

The Manager of Leleuvia Island Resort and the co-Chair of the Duavata Sustainable Tourism Collective in Fiji, Colin Philp, said the industry must contribute positively to enhancing, restoring and maintaining its day-to-day operations.

“Enforcement has always been and always will be an issue in our developing economies, so as an industry it is important that operators recognise the need to maintain a strong moral and ethical connection to the environment,” he said. 

The Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.), Fa’amatuainu Lenata’i Suifua, spoke on the importance of sustainable tourism to the Government. 

“The Government has prioritised and emphasised sustainable tourism development for Samoa and this is evident with sustainable tourism outlined in the Samoa National Development Strategy and also in the Tourism Sector Plans with its vision of Samoa becoming the leading Pacific destination for sustainable tourism,” he said.

He also explained the S.T.A. is promoting environmental planning in Tourism Development and encouraging sustainable tourism development through close collaboration with other Government agencies who conduct screening and scoping of tourism developments. 

The S.T.A. also has a Planning and Development Division responsible for leading and enforcing minimum standards for the Samoa accommodation providers. 

These standards are an evaluation and planning document by the S.T.A., and enforced through annual inspections. 

The Director General of S.P.R.E.P., Leota Kosi Latu, named important questions which need to be addressed moving forward. 

“One of the things that I keep hearing about and I would like to see addressed in the context of COVID-19 is that for us as a collective – Governments, non-Governmental Organisations, stakeholders and the public at large – to build back better in terms of post-COVID-19 recovery,” Leota said. 

“I think from what we’ve heard is that we all agree that we need to build back better but the question now is, what does that look like?

“Ms. Leala-Gale also raised an interesting point which talks about a new vision for tourism in the Pacific. But how do we build that new vision for tourism in the context of placing sustainability at the heart of our recovery?”

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