Tourism is one of the world's fastest growing industries and an important source of foreign exchange and employment for many developing countries.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits Member States, through Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.9 to “devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”
. The importance of sustainable tourism, as a driver for jobs creation and the promotion of local culture and products, is also highlighted in Sustainable Development Goal target 12.b.
Tourism is also identified as one of the tools to “increase [by 2030] the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries”
, through Sustainable Development Goals Target 14.7.
Sustainable tourism is defined by paragraph 130 of The Future We Want as a significant contributor “to the three dimensions of sustainable development”
thanks to its close linkages to other sectors and its ability to create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities. Therefore, Member States recognize “the need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity-building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities”
Paragraph 130 of the Future We Want also focuses on the role of sustainable tourism as a key contributor for sustainable development in developing countries.
More specifically, Member States, through paragraph 131, “encourage the promotion of investment in sustainable tourism, including eco-tourism and cultural tourism, which may include creating small and medium sized enterprises and facilitating access to finance, including through microcredit initiatives for the poor, indigenous peoples and local communities in areas with high eco-tourism potential”
. In this regard, Member States also stress the importance of establishing, guidelines and regulations, in accordance with national priorities and legislation for promoting and supporting sustainable tourism.
In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg addressed sustainable tourism in Chapter IV, paragraph 43 of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
At the Johannesburg Summit the launch of the Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) was announced. The initiative was inaugurated by the World Tourism Organization, in collaboration with UNCTAD in order to develop sustainable tourism as a force for poverty alleviation.
The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) last reviewed the issue of sustainable tourism in 2001, when it was acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Johannesburg Summit.
The General Assembly in 1998 proclaimed 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism (A/RES/53/200), reaffirming Economic and Social Council resolution 1998/40, of 30 July 1998.
In reviewing the first five years' implementation of Agenda 21 in 1997 at its nineteenth Special Session, the General Assembly indicated the need to give further consideration to the importance of tourism in the context of Agenda 21.
Under Chapter 7 of Agenda 21 devoted to the promotion of sustainable human settlement development, the promotion of the formulation of sound and culturally sensitive tourism programmes are seen as a strategy for sustainable development of urban and rural settlements and as a way of decentralizing urban development and reducing discrepancies among regions. The important role of ecotourism as a tool to promote economic growth in respect of environment sustainability is a recurring theme within Agenda 21, in particular with reference to the protection of forests (paragraph 11.20-11.21), mountain ecosystems (paragraph 13.6), improvement of farm production and farming systems (paragraph 14.25), sustainable conservation and use of marine living resources.