Each year on September 27th, World Tourism Day is observed and celebrated under the auspices of the World Tourism Organization (WTO). The theme for 2023 focuses on “Tourism and Green Investments”.
Karibu grantee partner the Tourism Alert and Action Forum (TAAF) — a global platform comprising of activists dedicated to promoting human rights, justice, equity, and sustainable tourism — have issued a statement in connection with World Tourism Day 2023, aiming to raise awareness and spark meaningful discussions.
They call for a focus on climate justice over so-called “green investment”, and they call for the end of business as usual in a time when we can clearly see multiple crises and the devastating impacts of climate change across boundaries.
The English statement can be found below:
By: The Tourism Action and Alert Forum
As we globally experience the devastating impacts of climate change and the crossing of multiple planetary boundaries – signified by conflicts, famines, drought, floods, fires and displacements – we need to be critically conscious of the tools and methods to distract our attention on needed action. Tourism development presents clear tensions between community prosperity and well-being, environmental protection and industry profits.
In 2023, the official World Tourism Day celebrations will be hosted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the theme “Tourism and Green Investments”. World Tourism Day occurs every year on 27th September proclaimed and celebrated by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
We should recognize the role of the UNWTO as the major cheerleader of the corporatized tourism industry that has somehow made itself part of the international infrastructure of the United Nations. It has paid lip service to tourism as a force for peace, a tool for poverty alleviation and a pathway to development. This is all the while serving the purposes of the big multinational corporations of tourism in extracting profits, distorting economies and securing the regulatory conditions that suit their interests at the expense of communities around the world.
This year’s focus on “green investments” follows a long line of heralded “green” initiatives, particularly green tourism and green growth. These have proven to be green hypocrisy, as essential actions for equity, sustainability and justice are not on this agenda. The continued development of gated resorts, huge golf courses, privatized commons and mega cruise ships give away the game. The game is to present an image of doing tourism business responsibly, while in fact ensuring ever greater profit is extracted, more commons are taken (including a livable climate) and the community is served the crumbs from the corporate table.
However, as we globally experience the devastating impacts of climate change and the crossing of multiple planetary boundaries – signified by conflicts, famines, drought, floods, fires and displacements – we need to be critically conscious of the tools and methods to distract our attention on needed action. Tourism development presents clear tensions between community prosperity and well-being, environmental protection and industry profits. Far too often industry profits are derived at the costly expense of communities and ecologies.
Finally, we cannot overlook the hosting in Saudi Arabia, a decision cowardly endorsed by the UNWTO which ends up in this posture of losing the remaining credibility that may have remained. Saudi Arabia has stormed the pavilions of “sustainable tourism” in an effort to sanitize its human rights record and to project an image of its transition from fossil fuels. Its investments in luxury “sustainable” tourism development such as Neom highlight the elitest agenda that Saudi Arabian leadership is intent on pursuing. The Saudi-led Sustainable Tourism Global Centre launched the Tourism Panel on Climate Change in 2022 which promises a “neutral” scientific assessment of tourism’s pathway to “net zero by 2050”. This represents a bold effort to capture the agenda of the tourism transition. In all likelihood the interests of ordinary communities in securing a safe future for themselves and their children will not be on this “green investment” table.
Each World Tourism Day, TAAF has continued to call out the UNWTO and its corporate allies for its hollow promises and exploitative actions. Today we face extraordinary times. Daily news reports – from our TAAF members’ communities in Sri Lanka, in Costa Rica, in India, in Peru, in Palestine, in Brasil and all around the world – demonstrate that the capitalist, imperialist, western supremacist powers and their collaborators are taking us to a cliff edge.
Tourism is not innocent in these agendas – it is complicit and instrumental. These green investments and net-zero promises are deadly distractions from what really matters to the Majority World.
Today, we say climate justice, not green investment, is the platform serving the interests of the Global South. If tourism is to have any future at all, it must be one that is built on climate justice foundations as determined by frontline communities living and thriving in the Global South.
Tourism Alert and Action Forum (TAAF)