UNWTO Conference on Sustainable Tourism in Islands opens in La Reunion

The role of tourism in island destinations as a means to promote economic growth and sustainable development is the main topic of the Conference on Sustainable Development of Tourism in Islands, organized jointly by UNWTO and the government of France (Reunion Island, France, September 11-13, 2013).

Critical issues for island destinations, including sustainable tourism development, climate change, and connectivity, branding and the role of regional cooperation will be addressed at the Conference. The event will provide an opportunity to share and further knowledge on tourism in islands with the international community at ministerial and expert levels and will set the agenda for the contribution of tourism to sustainable development in islands.
“Tourism is one of the most promising options for economic growth and development in small islands, particularly when planned and managed according to the principles of sustainability,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. “This conference will help realize tourism´s great potential to deliver sustainable development and livelihood to local communities.”

“The undeniable natural attractiveness of islands has led to a strong increase in tourism demand in most of the cases. This pressure can cause irreparable damages to the natural environment. Reconciling tourism and environmental preservation is the main challenge of small Islands,” said Pascal Faure, Head of the Directorate General for Competitiveness, Industry and Services, Ministry of Handicraft, Trade and Tourism, France.

“For several years now, and particularly in the last three years, we have placed tourism as a priority for our development”, said Didier Robert, President of the Region La Reunion. “I believe tourism is the most promising sector for our island in terms of business and job creation for the next 20 years. In this context, we face a double challenge – to develop tourism as a means of creating wealth, jobs, and improving the lives of people and promote sustainable tourism.”

International tourism plays a central role in the economies of islands, being one of the main economic activities that provides job opportunities, improves livelihoods and generates foreign exchange earnings. The UNWTO report, Challenges and Opportunities for Tourism Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), showed an accelerated growth of international tourism in many small islands over the last decade, increasing by over 12 million to reach 41 million in 2011. The tourism sector accounts for more than half of the exports of at least 12 SIDS and over one quarter of the GDP in at least seven of them.

The conclusions from the Conference on Sustainable Development of Tourism in Islands shall serve as a guide for tourism authorities and relevant destinations as well as key input for the Third International Conference on SIDS in Samoa in September 2014, called for by the United Nations as a follow up to the Rio+20 Conference.