Disneyland or diversity ?

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Les montagnes – demeures des dieux, sources des eaux vivifiantes, gigantesques monuments de roche et de glace – donnèrent l’impression des siècles durant d’être des barrières impénétrables.

Mountains—homes of the gods, sources of life-giving waters, gigantic monuments of rock and ice—that for centuries seemed like impenetrable boundaries, are increasingly falling vulnerable to the whims of humans,, to an onslaught of travelers seeking escape, and to demands on natural resources and cultural institutions that far exceed their capacities.

Mountain tourism constitutes 15% to 20% of the industry worldwide, worth 70 to 90 billion dollars per year. It is vital to the conservation and development of mountain regions, and has brought commendable economic opportunities to these previously isolated and undeveloped areas. But it is also turning them into “the world’s highest waste dumps,” high-altitude Disneylands that misjudge and exploit mountain cultures with little gain for their inhabitants. Roads, airports, hotels, communication, and other infrastructure developments are opening them to mass tourism before proper planning or management can be developed.

Tourism’s impacts on mountain ecosystems and biological resources are of great concern. Immense changes in mountainous climate conditions result in great variations in temperature, precipitation, soils, and vegetation, that host a rich diversity of ecosystems. But these conditions also impose inordinate stresses on natural resources—which are compounded by unrestrained human activity and development.

Unmanaged tourism can have a major impact on sensitive mountain environments formerly buffered from disturbance by remoteness and isolation. […] Tourism generates a high volume of garbage and waste which mountain communities are unable to process. Additionally, sustainable agricultural practices that promoted agro-biodiversity become geared instead to meeting tourism market demands, creating a chain effect on cropping patterns, loss of soil productivity, and soil erosion, which ultimately leads to the destruction of habitats and ecosystems.

Mountain regions are home to high concentrations of endemic species and are vital reservoirs of genetic diversity. They are also critical corridors for migrating animals and sanctuaries for plants and animals whose natural habitats have been destroyed or modified by both natural and human activity. The loss of such biodiversity has environmental, ethical, economic, and health implications. […]

Cultural identities and diversity in mountain regions are also threatened by the economic, social and environmental forces associated with mountain tourism. Cultures long protected by seclusion and isolation are suddenly the targets of camera-toting tourists. […] A loss of cultural identity leads to increased crime and drugs, and the degradation of community values and religious practices that once held societies together.

Mountain peoples must have a say and a stake in the future of their cultures. Tourism can provide them with it by giving value—and income—necessary to maintaining such authentic cultural features. […] Well-preserved mountain cultures can be a unique attraction for tourists, and the attention of outsiders can promote cultural pride and a desire to restore authentic cultural heritage. There is a difference, however, between sustainable cultural tourism and over-commercialization of culture. Well thought-out tourism demands local participation and commitment to authenticity, fairness, and careful management.

Due to isolation and limited access, many people living in mountain areas lack sufficient skills and resources to invest in tourism or benefit significantly from it. Tourism does provide jobs and investment opportunities, but it tends to benefit households and investors who already have significant assets. […]

As tourism grows and other sources of livelihoods and market demand decline, some mountain economies, including agricultural communities, become overly dependent on it. […]

Tourism will evidently remain one of the world’s fastest developing industries, with significant, direct, and growing impacts on the sensitive ecological and cultural values of mountain areas. Such concerns are driving a growing interest in the concepts and practices of sustainable and eco-tourism.

Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 recognizes tourism as an important component in sustainable mountain development and conservation, and acknowledges the role of the Mountain Forum and others in gaining accessto the global environmental agenda. […] The Biodiversity Planning Support Programme of the UNEP, United Nations Development Programme, and Global Environment Facility provides assistance to national biodiversity conservation planners, and is undertaking a study on “best global practices” for integrating biodiversity and tourism.

Most sites and cultures lack tourism or development plans for their mountain regions. Planning for mountain tourism must assess the short and long-term environmental impacts of development and give priority to tourism activity that benefits local people, while generating sustainable revenues and support for conservation. […]

Strong stakeholder participation—particularly by mountain peoples, but also by government policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and, ideally, the mountain tourist—is important throughout the planning, implementation, and management of mountain tourism. Experience has now shown that this, and equal benefit sharing, will produce more sustainable practices, and better-conserved biological and cultural resources. Local people need to be engaged in mountain tourism and empowered to conserve the resources upon which they depend.


UNEP Ourplanet vol.13 “La montagne et l’écotourisme



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