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Towards Ecotourism 2.0

ATHENS, GREECE (27 September 2007)

In a World Tourism Day message to its Members in over 80 countries, ECOCLUB (Web: www.ecoclub.com ) criticised the many environmental and social shortcomings of World Tourism and the self-congratulatory attitude of international tourism bodies. Antonis B. Petropoulos, the club's director stressed the need for a new more potent type of Ecotourism, with political power and a clear ecological message, which would makes full use of the internet and direct democracy to speed up change in Tourism. Members were then asked to express their own views at the club's Forum.

The full message is as follows:

"On World Tourism Day, let's take 5 minutes off our routine and think how we can improve our efforts & results towards a more ecological Tourism.

My feeling, a result of correspondence with many of you, seems to be that the broad Ecotourism movement, has reached a crossroad, and must pick the correct path in order to maintain its freshness, relevance, coherence, and raise its voice and power. An Ecotourism 2.0, confident & outward-looking, with political power, with a clear ecological message, internationalist, pacifist, making full use of the internet and direct democracy.

Personally, I am fed up with Pontius Pilate Governments who abdicate in favour of voluntary measures, private initiatives, and charity. With ngos acting as the long arm of powers that be. With powerful tourism interests endlessly paying lip service to the millennium development goals. Now, which millennium would that be, the third?

We need laws for all rather than optional, voluntary arrangements for the few. But laws that are realistic, that can be applied, not draconian ones that encourage corruption. Certification, if it is to acquire any real meaning, should not be a marketing exercise involving conflicts of interest at the local level, and an exercise in empire building at the international. We also need authentic reviews by knowledgeable tourists, but also to give the opportunity to people who toil for ecotourism - accommodation & tour providers - to be given a fair chance to respond. We also need laws, local, national, international. A clear, level-playing field for all.

I am fed up with self-congratulatory announcements about the importance of Tourism with a "billion tourists" (inflated 3 times by frequent business travellers and still a tiny share of the world's population), which "employs millions" (frequently with abysmal working conditions), and with incredible (invisible?) peace-building abilities, when the evidence is thin, and when the tourism status quo is invariably silent tourism infrastructure is destroyed during conflicts, when brutal dictators and mafias invest in Tourism, when ecotourism practitioners disappear, or when tourism becomes a cover up for intelligence gathering before renewed conflict.

I am fed up with international tourism bodies eulogising tourism while at the same time pleading, begging, instructing "the Media" what to say and what not to say. Media should report whatever they wish, and hopefully scrutinize powerful interests as well as the performance of those paid to govern tourism, be they in the public sector, the private sector or the ngo sector. Media should neither 'educate' (Orwell) or 'be educated' (Orwell). On the other hand we should be aware of the oligopolistic and concentrated control of mainstream media groups and their partiality and shady role in key issues. There is a choice: prefer independent, internet media, local media, these Web 2.0 days potentially everyone of us!

Equally, we should be weary of endless reports produced by multilateral bodies, some overpriced, others dumped, others pulp non-fiction, few authors bothering to look what is already written, even fewer bothering to read it. We need local reports in synch with local policy for RESULTS, not more models & hair-splitting, head-scratching theories. We need reports written in the language of the people, and representing the interests of the people, not of the top brass! And I better not say too much about the proliferation of green tourism events that invite speakers irrelevant or even hostile to the interests of ecological tourism, only because they are part of some invisible merry-go-round, or just because they are well-oiled. Or how most events are used as a rubber-stamp of old decisions, decisions that have usually less to do with promoting a cause, than slicing a pie.

In my view Ecotourism should build / rebuild its connection with the broad ecological movement and green (minded) parties in particular. Here in Greece, the destructive fires have hopefully revealed to small tourism operators that their interests are identical with those of ecologists - the preservation of the local environment & culture. As a result, and a consolation, environmentally-friendly parties did well in the elections.

Nationalism, economic nationalism and social racism has no place in Ecotourism, and this should remain so. National Ecotourism societies in particular should not imitate their tourism counterparts but constitute a true alternative. At the same time, Ecotourist proponents (the true "Ecotourists") should not shy from participating in national & international tourism bodies. National Ecotourism societies should also beware of creating monopolies, stifling competition and remain clear of nepotism and shady deals that may discredit Ecotourism in their countries.

Ecotourism, as it becomes more popular, should not forget its roots, and remain firmly in favour of small, businesses owned by small local entrepreneurs, communities and the many expats genuinely keen on helping local communities. At the same time, neoconservatism is hopefully on its way out, so let us discourage neo-con talk, especially in Ecotourism, and stop overemphasizing the role of private initiative and talk of the 'ecotourism market ', the 'ecotourism product', the 'monetary value of wild animals' and other Orwellian approaches. As in all movements, there are different viewpoints and conflicting interests, we do not necessarily need to agree at all times. Politics is an art, the art of the possible, and Ecotourism in no different. That said, the mainstream should come to us, not us to the mainstream. We should defend our role and rights within the system so as not to be marginalised, however without any trade-offs in terms of our ecological principles.

In terms of funding, we should aim for appropriate sources of funding, from within our ranks, be weary of fat cats and fat grants with strings attached. Big is rarely beautiful. We should vigorously guard our financial independence or risk losing it.

We should be weary of overusing the term Ecotourism. We work in Tourism. We work to change Tourism. Otherwise we risk confusing and cheapening our message.

In a word plagued by poverty and injustice, overemphasis on holiday carbon neutrality can be counter-productive, purist and hypocritical - in one word, puritan. Let's take this (very real) problem to the two or three airline manufacturers of this world, not pass the buck to over-borrowing, hard-working travellers who make the extra effort to go and see and support remote communities. Airline routes are what railways were in the 19th century, they are the developing world's exit strategy from poverty. At the same time we also desperately need more and better railways and electric, affordable cars and buses. Ecotourists need not be luddites!

I am aware that if we all are to change Tourism even by an inch, we have to face off powerful interests and we therefore should have no delusions of grandeur or overestimate our power. Some should not be so keen to trade-off their principles for a slice of the pie and becoming part of the status quo. But we should not be timid either. The world can change, the world has always been changing.

In terms of organisation, let's opt for a multipolar, decentralised, pluralistic, internationalist, democratic Ecotourism movement of equals, without bureaucracy, shady dealings and cosiness with the status quo.

This is not a (tourism) love song, unlike others that may appear on your inbox today.

These are my views, and please feel free to ignore, disagree, or even agree! "


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