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Bar Harbor Declaration: Ecotourism in the US
A Road Map for Responsible Tourism Development
The Bar Harbor Declaration on Ecotourism in the U.S. calls on our government, at the federal, state and local levels, to adopt a series of policies to promote socially and environmentally responsible tourism. It calls on the U.S., as one of the world’s leading tourism destinations, to play a leadership role in promoting responsible tourism.
This Declaration builds on previous ecotourism platforms, most importantly the Quebec Declaration adopted in 2002 during the United Nations’ International Year of Ecotourism. The Bar Harbor Declaration was developed and adopted through a consultative and participatory process at the first National Conference on Ecotourism in the U.S., held in Bar Harbor, Maine, September 14-16, 2005.
A draft of the Declaration was prepared by the conference advisory committee and presented to the 300 participants for their written feedback. Based on these extensive comments, the advisory committee reworked the Declaration to incorporate changes that reflected the majority views.
Together the Bar Harbor conference and Declaration represent the first national step towards promoting the sound practices of ecotourism within the U.S. We believe that, done well, ecotourism has the potential to transform the travel industry to be a positive force in safeguarding our natural and cultural heritage upon which tourism’s future depends.
It is anticipated that the principles and practices outlined in the Declaration will be used by government, the travel industry, NGOs, local communities, and academia to foster sound tourism. We anticipate that it will be reviewed on an ongoing basis, including at future national tourism conferences.
We, the participants in the first national conference on Ecotourism in the U. S., resolve that as tourism professionals from throughout the country, we embrace and promote the practices and principles of ecotourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) has defined ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.
In adopting this Declaration, we draw on previous international meetings and declarations that have endorsed ecotourism and embraced the principles of sustainable development in all facets of the global tourism industry. On behalf of the conference organizers and participants, we as Co-Chairs, would like to thank all individuals and organizations that contributed to the development of this Declaration.
Benefits of Ecotourism
We hold that the application of ecotourism principles is helping transform the tourism industry in positive ways through the introduction and implementation of sustainable practices and incentives for conservation of destinations. Specifically, ecotourism promotes:
- Sustainable livelihoods and tangible economic benefits to host communities;
- Protection of fragile ecosystems and natural resource-based heritage;
- Cultural diversity, including the vitality of local and indigenous communities;
- Educational experiences and opportunities for both visitors and hosts;
- Participatory, democratic, and multi-stakeholder planning, development, and operations;
- Fair trade wages and working conditions, according to international human rights and labor norms; and
- Geographic character, including a sense of place, authenticity, heritage and aesthetics.
Opportunities and Challenges
We recognize current opportunities and challenges, including the following:
- The United States is one of the world’s leading tourism destinations, with the oldest national park system, a magnificent array of wilderness and protected natural areas, historic sites and monuments, and a rich and varied cultural heritage.
- Global tourism has grown at a staggering rate in the past 50 years and continues to increase, representing one of the largest industries on our planet today.
- Consumer demand for nature and adventure travel continues to drive tourism's global expansion.
- Native Americans and other indigenous people, local communities, parks and protected areas, ranches, farms, tourism businesses and trade associations, non-governmental organizations, local and state governments, and academic institutions are increasingly involved in ecotourism initiatives.
- The United States has no federal agency dedicated specifically to tourism, no clearly articulated policy on ecotourism and sustainable tourism, no national green certification programs, and no national association or group specifically focused on coordinating and promoting ecotourism practices in the United States.
- With proper planning and management, tourism can contribute to economic growth and poverty alleviation, protect the environment, safeguard cultural diversity, and conserve natural resources.
We therefore call on our government, at the appropriate federal, state, or local level, to:
- Support, through policies, financial and operational incentives, and multi-stakeholder dialogue, ecotourism as a means of sustainable economic development and protection of the cultural and natural heritage of our country;
- Ensure stakeholder involvement before developing or promoting a tourism project or destination, and recognize that it is valid for a community to decide not to engage in tourism;
- Create a national tourism office within the U.S. government, mandated with coordinating tourism policies and government positions, including the promotion of sustainable tourism development within the United States;
- Lead a national initiative dedicated to specifically fostering ecotourism principles and practices within the United States; Reinstate official U.S. membership in the World Tourism Organization, and endorse the WTO’s "Global Code of Ethics in Tourism";
- Commit to comply with rigorous standards in land and water use management, noting the importance, and being mindful, of long-term cumulative impacts to ecosystems and local water-dependent communities;
- Endorse careful planning of controlled development in mountainous regions, including at ski areas and other large resorts, and especially with respect to alpine lifts, trams and roadways in fragile high elevation alpine ecosystems;
- Carefully monitor and manage trails, routes, and designated use areas in tourism destinations to avoid overcrowding and negative impacts in the marine and terrestrial environments;
- Recognize the role of ecotourism in supporting small-scale farming and rural-based agriculture, including local and organic foods;
- Encourage collaborative initiatives with the private sector, specifically outbound and inbound tour operators, destination service providers, public agencies and NGOs, with the goal of educating tourists about ecotourism practices;
- Develop new, and promote existing, educational programs within institutions of higher learning in the United States to provide more professional expertise in ecotourism as a means for sustainable economic development, nature conservation, cultural heritage protections and community well-being;
- Promote sustainable and context-sensitive design, construction, and operation of tourism facilities and attractions to ensure low environmental impact; incorporate renewable, reused, and recycled materials;
- Support the use of clean energy transport, energy-efficient transportation systems, and sustainably designed transportation infrastructure, both to and within tourism destinations;
- Aid academic institutions and NGOs in researching and monitoring the impacts of tourism activities on destinations’ cultural heritage, ecosystems, and local economies, with the goal of assisting communities in understanding the value of various tourism activities; and
- Develop and implement one umbrella ‘green’ ecotourism certification program for accommodations, tour operators, and other tourism sectors; by building on the work of international bodies and using internationally recognized guidelines, affordable, realistic, and well-tested criteria; through a participatory process informed by key private, public, NGO, and academic experts.
With this Declaration, we seek to lay out an initial framework for U.S. government policies on implementing and promoting ecotourism principles and practices within our country. While this document focuses mainly on the role of government, we fully recognize that successful ecotourism requires active participation from host communities, the private sector, and NGOs, who, working together with federal, local and state government can successfully implement the best practices of ecotourism. The diverse geographical and professional mix of the 300 people who participated in the Bar Harbor Conference, as well as the broad range of workshop and plenary topics, demonstrated that ecotourism has taken root and continues to grow within our country.
The conference was hosted by Bar Harbor, a small coastal town bordering Acadia National Park, one of the most popular national parks in America, which is surrounded by family farms and fishing communities. Bar Harbor encapsulates both the many opportunities and challenges facing ecotourism in the United States today. We envision that this conference, together with this Declaration, will signal the start of a broad-based ecotourism initiative within our country, joining similar movements and organizations around the world that are working to make tourism a positive force for economic development and safeguarding the natural and cultural heritage of our planet.