By Chris Cocker, CEO, SPTO

SUVA, 13 FEBRUARY 2017 (SPTO) —- For sometime now, sustainability has been the buzzword in development circles. We have the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs that Pacific member countries of the UN have adopted and are working diligently towards.Recognising the potential of tourism to advance these, the United Nations General Assembly has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, which was officially launched on 18 January in Madrid, Spain.


Three of the 17 SDGs relate to tourism. Goal 8 on promoting growth and decent work, Goal 12 on ensuring sustainable consumption and production, and Goal 14 on conserving marine resources.

The International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector than can contribute effectively to the SDGs, which will in turn benefit the Pacific region as well.

“This is a unique opportunity to build a more responsible and committed tourism sector that can capitalize its immense potential in terms of economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, cultural and environmental preservation” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

Within the Pacific Islands tourism sector, there’s been a lot of talk about “sustainable tourism” in recent years..

But what does “sustainable tourism” actually mean in the Pacific context and how are we faring as a region?

Sustainable tourism in the Pacific means a variety of things, including:

  • The protection of our natural environment so that it continues to be an attraction for visitors, thus ensuring the sustainability of our destinations as tourism products.
  • Sustainable practices that ensure key players in the region, including hoteliers and other members of the private sector, are at the forefront of protecting our assets, as our islands are prone to natural disasters and hazards.
  • Our culture and heritage is a niche tourism product and needs protection and conservation to ensure it does not die.
  • Maintaining and sustaining both land and marine assets, among other things.

Exactly, how far along are we in terms of embracing the sustainable tourism ethos as a region?

The protection of our local environment, both land and sea, has been a priority for many generations, perhaps better explained in terms other than “sustainable tourism” which has become a popular term of late.

PICs have progressed significantly, some more than others, in embracing sustainable tourism largely because we are susceptible to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters, which have proven to be drastically damaging to PI economies given their dependency on the tourism industry.

PICs have mainstreamed sustainable tourism policies in their national planning strategies and donors and development partners have also assisted in the implementation of sustainable tourism development projects and programmes in PICs as a means to make them more informed of the importance of sustainable tourism.

Similarly, key agencies in both public and private sectors have embraced sustainable tourism and have adopted effective sustainable tourism practices and initiatives. The Pacific is better placed now than in the past, in terms of its knowledge, awareness and acceptance of sustainable tourism.

Challenges and SPTO’s role

Sustainable tourism practices can be expensive, for example, developing toolkits to measure sustainable consumption and production patterns can be costly. In this regard, SPTO has partnered with Sustainable Travel International through funding support from the United National Environment Programme (UNEP) to develop a regional programme that will support destinations and enterprises across the region to address critical barriers to sustainability practices and improve sustainable consumption and production.

There’s a low level of awareness of sustainable tourism at all levels and its importance to the Pacific. Empowerment programmes through the provision of capacity building training and workshops are a priority for SPTO to assist in knowledge building amongst PICs.

Some of the smaller island states lack the adequate technical expertise to assist in the development of sustainable tourism policies for mainstreaming into national development plans. SPTO is exploring the provision of technical assistance to countries that are lacking in this area.

At the recent 26th Council of Tourism Ministers Meeting held in Rarotonga in late October, Cook Islands launched its national sustainable tourism policies, a huge achievement for the island nation.

The Pacific tourism ministers recognised that member governments are at various stages of development of national sustainable tourism policies and plans; and commended the efforts of those who have launched high-level policy documents in the area of sustainable tourism.

Furthermore, the Ministers endorsed an SPTO proposal for a €5m project under European Development Fund 11, which includes a sustainable tourism component.

Back to that question: How sustainable is Pacific tourism? We’re on the right track but much work still needs to be done.  There is no quick fix.  Sustainability is a journey and we must work together to achieve the future we want.

Through the establishment of its new Sustainable Tourism Development Division, SPTO is continuing its advocacy role to promote the economic and social contribution of sustainable tourism, the conservation of our environment, protection of our cultures, and the development of business opportunities for tourism private sector.

About SPTO

Established in 1983 as the Tourism Council of the South Pacific, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) is the mandated organisation representing Tourism in the region. Its 18 Government members are American Samoa, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the People’s Republic of China. In addition to government members, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation enlists a private sector membership base.

At the Global Level

2017 is a unique opportunity for us to promote the contribution of tourism to achieving the future we want – and also to determine, together, the exact role we will have tourism play in the sustainable development agenda, to and beyond 2030. A unique opportunity to ensure that tourism is a pillar in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, said UNWTO Secretary General, Taleb Rifai, opening of the event.

In the context of the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector than can contribute to the SDGs.

The #IY2017 will promote tourism’s role in the following five key areas:

(1)Inclusive and sustainable economic growth

(2)Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction

(3)Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change

(4)Cultural values, diversity and heritage

(5) Mutual understanding, peace and security.

Three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals include targets that relate to tourism: Goal 8 on promoting growth and decent work, Goal 12 on ensuring sustainable consumption and production, and Goal 14 on conserving marine resources.

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres in his message on the IYST emphasizes that “this is a crucial moment to make this important sector a force for good.  Together, we can make tourism an effective and dynamic tool in building a safer, more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable world for all…..PACNEWS [/restrict]