Costa Rica President - Special Ambassador of Int'l Yr of Sustainable Tourism for Development

As part of the observance of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which is leading the campaign, has named Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera as Special Ambassador of this important global action. The initiatives developed by Costa Rica in the field of sustainable tourism as well as its international positioning and momentum in this field are some of the factors behind the designation.

Madrid, Spain, 10 May 2017. Traditionally considered an example of environmental commitment, Costa Rica is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity. In addition, more than 25% of the country’s land area is classified as protected, and the country is already being powered 100% with renewable energy. One of the most outstanding initiatives carried out by Costa Rica has been the creation of the Certification for Tourism Sustainability. The programme, designed by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, categorizes and differentiates tourism companies based on their environmental commitment.

“This recognition for Costa Rica bears witness to our emphasis on this non-smokestack industry. It also allows us to strengthen our drive to encourage more women to lead sustainable tourism projects for their economic empowerment,” said Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, President of the Republic of Costa Rica.

“The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to promote common action, but also to underline efforts in this field; and Costa Rica’s contribution to global sustainability is one of the best examples to follow. We are very grateful to President Solís for his support and leadership in advancing tourism as a tool for sustainable development,” explained UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development marks an important milestone in the 2030 Agenda and in the progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, in which the tourism sector appears as a key tool. The figure of Special Ambassadors is aimed at providing a global focus to the International Year, as well as to highlight the commitment of leaders and prominent personalities in the development of sustainable practices in the tourism sector.

The list of Special Ambassadors consists of:

- Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of Samoa

- Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

- Mai bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa, President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities

- Simeon II of Bulgaria

- Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Chairman of the Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization

- Huayong Ge, CEO of UnionPay

- Michael Frenzel, President of the Federal Association of the German Tourism Industry 

Asia Pacific Ecotourism Trends & Sustainable Tourism Development

More people are travelling now than ever before. Given the rise of visitor arrivals and increased trips to natural areas including ecologically sensitive ones as well as places where local culture is a highlight, uphold ecotourism principles have become important so as to minimise negative impacts on people and the environment. Gaia Discovery’s publisher Mallika Naguran speaks to three industry experts for their views on ecotourism trends, developments and industry movements toward sustainability.

UNWTO Welcomes Japan Tourism Program: Infrastructure, Visa & Technology

UNWTO Secretary-General welcomes Japan’s support for tourism when meeting with Prime Minister Abe

The Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, applauded Japan’s commitment to tourism development as one of the significant pillars of the socio-economic agenda during a recent official visit to Japan. Meeting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr Rifai welcomed Japan’s Action Program for Tourism focused on infrastructure development, visa facilitation and technology. 

“Japan will continue to promote tourism and stress its great potential in people to people understanding as well as its important role in rural area development”, said Prime Minister Abe.

On the occasion, Mr. Rifai presented Prime Minister Abe with the Open Letter on Travel and Tourism, an initiative jointly led by UNWTO and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to advocate tourism and its role to the development of nations. 

Mr Rifai congratulated Prime Minister Abe on the impressive development of the tourism sector since he took office in 2013 and highlighted the potential that tourism has to bring development to all the areas of Japan. In 2016, Japan received 24 million international tourists, an increase of 22% as compared to 2015. Japan set as a target to increase the number of foreign tourists to 40 million by 2020, and to 60 million by 2030.

“Japan is showing a clear leadership in tourism development by placing tourism high in its socio-economic agenda. We thank Prime Minister Abe for its vision and leadership and look forward to continuing working with Japan to achieve its set target of 40 million international tourists by 2020”, said Mr Rifai.  

David Scowsill, President & CEO, WTTC, said: “Japan is a country which has long recognized the power of our sector to drive economic growth. Travel & Tourism contributes 7.4% to the country’s GDP and generates over 4.5 million jobs, or 6.9% of total employment in the country. Japan ranks 4th in the world for Travel & Tourism GDP. We encourage the government to continue its great efforts to stimulate Japan’s Travel & Tourism sector, focusing on creating products to attract new markets and continuing to invest in infrastructure to absorb future demand in the country.”

Mr Rifai also met the Governor of Yamagata Prefecture, Mieko Yoshimura, to announce the forthcoming UNWTO Conference on Tourism and Snow-Related Activities, to be held in February 2018. The event is aimed at supporting the recovery of the Tohoku region (Northern) from the 2011 earthquake. It is also part of the efforts of UNWTO to support Japan in diversifying its tourism offer to less known tourism areas.

The visit was also an occasion to inaugurate the Tokyo Liaison Office of the UNWTO Regional Support Office for Asia and the Pacific(RSOAP)based in Nara in the presence of the 17 UNWTO Affiliate Members of Japan and 200 key tourism leaders and stakeholders. The office will provide supplementary support to the activities being carried out from the Nara-based office.

Besides his encounter with Prime Minister Abe, Mr Rifai held meetings with Mr. Yoshihiro Nikai, Secretary-General of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Mr. Keiichi Ishii, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), Mr. Nobuo Kishi, State Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mr. Akihiko Tamura, Commissioner of Japan Tourism Agency (MLIT), all of whom expressed their support to the tourism sector and the work of UNWTO.

On the occasion, UNWTO Secretary-General also addressed the research commission for the establishment of a tourism oriented nation of the LDP and met with the representatives of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), the Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA), the Japan Travel and Tourism Association (JTTA), JTB Corp., TOYO University, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Gurunavi Inc. and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

JICA and UNWTO recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through tourism with a particular focus in assisting developing countries to reduce poverty through tourism as well as to improve public policies and business practices.

(Source: UNWTO)

UNWTO Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017 Begins in Spain

The International Tourism Fair in Spain (FITUR), taking place on January 18-22 in Madrid, comprises a number of events organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Activities will have a special focus on sustainable tourism, including the official presentation of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017 on January 18.

Ten Responsible Tourism Operators in Southeast Asia

This year in its finale event, Wild Asia showcased ten former Responsible Tourism Award Winners and Finalists in an effort to share their replicable best practices that also serve as a tool to inspire future entrepreneurs. By Prerna Shah.

Singapore, 21 October 2016: In a high growth market like Asia, tourism can serve as an engine for sustainable development and inclusive growth. Incorporating local communities in the tourism value chain can reduce inequalities and provide alternate livelihood opportunities. Further, attaching value to local culture and environment can serve as a strong cohesive force that binds people together. Not to mention, such green models can be good for the business too! They help fulfil the rapidly rising demand for authentic cultural engagement with minimal environmental impact and maximum benefit to host communities.

Initiated a decade ago, the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards began when sustainable tourism approaches were looked at with doubt and uncertainty. Finding and profiling success stories in such a dicey environment and sustaining the movement for a decade is no ordinary feat. “Over time our Awards have gone from a grassroots movement facilitating third party verification, to a regional panel of industry leaders supporting our judging process”, says Dr. Reza Azmi, Founder and Director of Wild Asia.

Inspiring Stories

Agri Tourism, India: Established with a mission to create alternate livelihood for farmers, Agri Tourism set up a centralized booking system for small scale farmers cum tourism entrepreneurs across rural India. With its own flagship site at Baramati and 320 third-party agricultural tourism centres Agri Tourism has addressed a key challenge of farming in India i.e. seasonality and hence provided at least a 25% increase in farmers’ income. Among other benefits, this initiative has checked urban migration, pushed rural development projects and built a greater appreciation for rural areas among domestic travelers. Today, the flagship site attracts more than 6000 visitors each year.

Jungle survivor exercise at Khao Sok National Park. (Pic Credits: Andaman Discoveries)

Jungle survivor exercise at Khao Sok National Park. (Pic Credits: Andaman Discoveries)

Andaman Discoveries, Thailand: Born out of the Tsunami Relief project, Andaman Discoveries is a community-based tourism (CBT) enterprise seeking economic renewal of the communities hard hit by the disaster. “In the beginning a lot of people were scared and skeptical of our approach, but soon when people saw our successes they pitched in. Some of the people who had migrated came back too,” says Thamrong “Tui” Chomphusri, Director of Andaman Discoveries.

Ban Talae Nok, one of the participant villages has received approximately 35% additional income owing to the local volunteer trips, home-stay experiences and community eco-tours embedded in the CBT project. Through active collaboration with the North Andaman Network (NAN) Foundation, Andaman Discoveries has supported more than 150 Moken children from Koh Surin by offering scholarships to attend middle or high school. “Our future strategy is to involve more villages into the CBT project and collaborate with like-minded business to expand our reach,” adds Chomphusri.

Giving back thorugh the BEST Society. (Pic Credits: Borneo Eco Tours)

Giving back thorugh the BEST Society. (Pic Credits: Borneo Eco Tours)

Borneo Eco-Tours, Malaysia: Borneo Eco-Tours specializes in nature-based tourism by not only training their 100% local staff but also supporting communities in establishing their own cottage industries like jewelery making, weaving and coconut oil production. Embracing unique ecotourism principles, the Sukau Rainforest Lodge designed elephant passes that enabled Borneo pygmy elephants to migrate through the property. This initiative earned it the prestigious recognition by National Geographic as a Unique Lodge of the World. Its sister organization, the Borneo Ecotourism Solutions and Technologies (BEST) society has invested more than USD 130,000 for community and environmental projects, impacting more than 6300 people directly.

Child Safe Movement, Cambodia: Started by Friends International, Child Safe is a global movement protecting children and youth across tourist destinations. Travelers sometimes unknowingly put children at a risk of exploitation while visiting overseas destinations. In Cambodia, volunteering in orphanages was actually perpetuating a trend of intentionally placing children in such institutions and care centres. Hence, apart from providing Seven Tips for Travelers to enable tourists to make better, more responsible choices, the Child Safe Movement also provides children with vocational training and generates employment for their parents. Social enterprises generate USD 3.3 million in product sales and services across 3 countires. The organization provides tourism businesses with child protection training so they can identify a child at risk and report incidents through a 24 hour helpline. Today, there are more than 8000 trained individuals who can act as Child Safe agents.

CBT Homestay at one of the participating villages. (Pic Credits: CBT Vietnam)

CBT Homestay at one of the participating villages. (Pic Credits: CBT Vietnam)

CBT Vietnam: CBT Vietnam uses tourism as a means to protect vulnerable ethnic communities. Women are trained and supported in a way that enables them to run their own tourism business. In order to build lasting business relationships, community members who had never left their village visited Hanoi to interact with local government and tourism stakeholders. Owing to such close collaborative activities, the rural villages of Tavan, Taphin and Lao Chai have become completely self-sufficient. Income generated by some individuals in the villages has increased from USD 500 per year to USD 2400 per year.

El Nido Resorts, Philippines: A group of four sustainable island resorts, El Nido strives to create harmony between tourism and its natural surroundings. Through a unique fishing activity, visitors interact with local fishermen, immerse themselves in their culture and participate in low impact fishing, while being educated about the negative impacts of unsustainable fishing. Each guest is provided with a refillable bottle on their arrival which can be filled at complimentary drinking water stations. By using their own desalination plant, El Nido saves more than USD 160,000 every year. Further, by processing their own food waste, the resorts generate almost 10 tons of natural compost that is fuelled back into their organic gardens.

Students engaged in a local community development project. (Pic credits: Loola Adventure Resort)

Students engaged in a local community development project. (Pic credits: Loola Adventure Resort)

Loola Adventure Resort, Indonesia: With a commitment to empower local staff members and communities, Loola Adventure Resort supports them in setting up their own social enterprises. In order to foster community engagement, guests participate in community development projects such as planting trees or paving school compounds. Loola has installed 70 solar panels, covering 60% of the resort’s current energy usage. Among prominent initiatives under its Community Involvement Project (CIP), Loola has planted 10 hectares of trees in the island and developed wastewater gardens for 60 local households that help save 15% of household income per year.

PEPY Tours, Cambodia: PEPY Tours provides educational travel to academic institutions all over the world. Through a unique payment structure that includes a compulsory fundraising component, the operator has directly contributed close to USD 400,000 to its sister NGO, PEPY Empowering Youth. This organization is providing skill training and educational programs to Khmer youth (currently 50 students) so they can achieve their career goals and access skilled jobs. Apart from having an immersive cultural experience visitors get to stay in homestays and dine in social business restaurants while simultaneously engaging in workshops and debates on developmental issues.

Drying silk yarn at a workshop. (Pic Credits: Ock Pop Tok)

Drying silk yarn at a workshop. (Pic Credits: Ock Pop Tok)

Ock Pop Tok, Lao PDR: Ock Pop Tok, or more simply ‘East meets West’ is a collaboration between a British and Laotian lady to promote traditional hand-loomed textiles in the western markets. Through the Village Weavers Project, design and marketing assistance is provided thereby purchasing up to 1000 products and leading to significant income generation and income reduction. Additionally, the Living Crafts Centre conducts workshops to provide visitors an insight in to Lao’s traditional handicrafts and textiles. Committed to implement ethical business practices, Ock Pop Tok has increased natural dye use from 5% to nearly 50%.

Soneva Resorts, Maldives and Thailand: Working onits philosophy of ‘intelligent luxury’, Soneva Resorts provides high-quality experiences while balancing their impact on the natural environment and local communities. Through the Whole World Water project, the resort has bottled its own water and recorded a 700% increase in profit, not to mention given 750,000 people access to safe drinking water. Its Waste-to-Wealth initiative has led to an 80% (or sometimes even more) recycling rate while generating in excess of USD 260,000 in 2015. This has been done through ground-breaking initiatives like converting polystyrene into bean bags across the resort and reworking crushed glass into new works of art to be used in the resort. It even measure its operational performance through its own Soneva Carbon Calculator!

For a more detailed overview, read the 10 year reflection report here.

Also, visit the Wild Asia website here.

Related readings on Gaia Discovery:

Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 Finale

Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards has come to an end in 2016. What continues is the consolidation, sharing and training of what it takes to be sustainable in tourism operations for the benefit of society and the environment while boosting livelihoods. Prerna Shah reports.

Singapore Park Connectors : building on 25 years of cyclepaths

Singapore might not spring to mind as a cycling mecca, but National Parks cycle advocates have made significant progress over the last 25 years - and are still adding to the facilities. By Jeremy Torr.

Singapore, April 2015 – "There's this tradition in Singapore that says everybody has to complain about what local officials and organisations are doing," says Tai Woon, driving force and chief organiser behind the local LoveCyclingSG movement. "But the National Parks people are doing a great job with our Park Connector Network (PCN). The tide is turning now and people are realising how easy it is to cycle in most parts of Singapore."

The pre-ride briefing went through all the important aspects of the new section as well as key points of interest

The pre-ride briefing went through all the important aspects of the new section as well as key points of interest


Tai Woon was talking to a group at the recent opening ride, organised by National Parks, to celebrate the completion of the PCN link between existing cycle paths at East Coast Park and Gardens by the Bay. And in the process, celebrate 25 years since the opening of the first Park Connector along the Pelton Canal. Some 150 cyclists from all walks of life had turned up at 8am on a bright Saturday morning (25 April) to inaugurate the new section of PCN. All seemed happy that they could now (if they are fit enough) ride from Changi Village right through to Clementi, without using any sections of major roads, and passing some delightful parts of Singapore on the way.

The new section leaves the East Coast park and crosses Fort Road over a special cycleway bridge, then meanders past the ECP right up to the Kallang River. It then passes underneath the Benjamin Speares Bridge and then connects up with existing PCN pathways at Gardens by the Bay that lead to the Marina Barrage.

The latest section of PCN links existing sections at East Coast to Gardens by the Bay

The latest section of PCN links existing sections at East Coast to Gardens by the Bay

"It's a long job making all the cyclepaths and connecting them up, but we are definitely making progress," says Yee Chung Yao, Deputy Director of Parks at the National Parks Board.

Yee says that the PCN now offers a total of 300km of cycle paths and connectors across the island, allowing all riders from serious fitness freaks to family parties and picnickers to travel to most parts of Singapore without the need for road riding. In fact this is one of Yee's key messages - that the PCN strategy is to make routes and rides that are accessible and easy to use by the whole family - not just the lycra-clad 'serious cyclist' brigades.

Plenty of families seemed keen to try out the new section of PCN, and NatParks were ready to help

Plenty of families seemed keen to try out the new section of PCN, and NatParks were ready to help


The National Parks is also celebrating the SG50 anniversary (50 years since Singapore was founded) by putting on a series of events and attractions that dovetail into the PCN. These include familiarisation rides and picnics, suitable for the whole family and led by National Parks and LoveCyclingSG guides; Cycle-In movie sessions at a selection of the major parks that are linked by the PCN; and Adventure Rides that focus on exploring less well-known routes and connectors. Updated details are on the National Parks website, or if you subscribe to their online newsletter.

"What we are finding now is that more and more people are seeing bicycles as a real alternative form of transport," says LoveCyclingSG's Tai Woon. He says that the numbers of people now using the PCN and bicycles for riding to work, shopping and commuting to see family is getting bigger all the time. "And we have to say the PCN is a big help in this. Riding in traffic in Singapore still has a way to go, and many motorists still need more education in how to ride with cyclists," he says.

Nonetheless, in a city like Singapore, with good, flat cycleways, warm weather and little wind, more and more people are using bikes as their basic form of transport.

"The only thing that is holding many people back is the lack of showers at work," smiles Tai Woon. "There is no doubt that you get a bit sweaty riding a bike, and that isn't always ideal for when you get to work."


Yee Chung Yao and Tai Woon were both at the East Coast to christen the new section of Connector

Yee Chung Yao and Tai Woon were both at the East Coast to christen the new section of Connector

Yet in 25 years, considerable progress has been made. 300 km of dedicated cyclepath on an island that only measures some 40km wide by 25km top to bottom, and boasts a mere 165km of expressways is a pretty solid achievement. Yee admits the work of developing cyclepaths for the PCN is ongoing, and sometimes throws up difficult challenges posed by new buildings, new roads and the restriction of existing paths.

"But the LTA's new future plan and direction is encouraging," he says. "With us both [LTA and National Parks] working together we will have plenty more good cycling facilities to look forward to."

With the final links in many separate sections of the PCN now coming together - like the East Coast/Gardens by the Bay section the riders christened last weekend - it looks like those challenges are being risen to.

  • For more about the Park Connector Network, go to :

  • For more about LoveCyclingSG, go to :

  • For more about Parks Concerts, go to :

Cross Island Line Impacts on Biodiversity in Central Catchment Nature Reserve

In a previous article, the potential negative impacts on avian biodiversity if plans for the construction of Cross Island Line (CRL) were to follow through were highlighted. In this update, Tan Hui Zhen and Shermaine Wong turn their focus to other biodiversity that reside in the MacRitchie forests - the non-avian fauna and often overlooked flora of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).

Singapore's Electric Vehicle Test-bed Launched

The inter-agency Electric Vehicle (EV) Taskforce, led by the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), announced the launch of the electric vehicle test-bed in Singapore on 25 June 2011. It was also revealed for the first time that Daimler South East Asia (SEA) Pte. Ltd has joined the test-bed, and will bring in 20 smart fortwo (ed) vehicles available for lease under the EV test-bed from July 2011.