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Tuspain - The Environment
Welcome to the Environment section of tuSPAIN. Over the coming months our contributors will be discussing many aspects of Spanish environmental issues. We wish to encourage participation from our readers therefore please feel free to contact us should you have a particular topic you would like to see discussed. We also welcome articles to be considered for publication, please contact us with your suggestions.


Deirdre Nicole Webb-Hicks

ECO-TOURISM, n., 1. travel and tourism that aids in the conservation of the environment, indigenous populations, traditions and local economy either through education or action. - Syn. ECO-TOURISM, GREEN TOURISM, SUSTAINABLE TOURISM.

When it comes to preserving the environment, Eco-tourism is a major issue. Tourism is the world’s largest industry. Its impact for good or bad on the environment is tremendous. Many resorts that were once popular have now become seldomly visited wastelands. This is because the very tourism that exploited the human and natural resources has also destroyed them and as a result, the resorts have lost their popularity.

Tourism, to explore nature and different cultures, has been in existence since time immemorial. Yet, the widespread concern that tourism could have a negative impact on a locale is recent. As environmental awareness increased, so did the steps that tourist were willing to take to preserve and to positively affect the area that they were visiting. The general agreement is that Eco-tourism began in earnest in the 1970's. Still, some organizations such as the Field Studies Council in the United Kingdom, have been providing Eco-tours since 1943 and tours of Spain for nearly 20 years.

In Spain, Eco-tourism has grown in popularity during the international environmental movement of the ‘90's. Spain is now the number two destination for foreign tourist. Growing numbers of those tourists are opting for organized Eco-tours or incorporating environmental awareness into their decisions while visiting Spain.

Camberwell BeautyThe organized Eco-tours that are offered in Spain are quite varied. Yet, the most popular subjects for tours are birds, butterflies, and plants. Spain offers a rich variety of birds such as Eleonora ’s Falcon, Little Bustard, and Booted Eagle; butterflies such as the Pasha, Camberwell Beauty, and Clouded Yellow; and plants such as the Great Yellow Rattle, Dog’s Tooth Violet, and many varieties of orchids. These tours take place from spring through fall.

In the forefront of the establishment that set aside lands for natural preservation, Spain established its first national park in 1918. This was 30 years before the establishment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The IUCN is an organization that promotes the active conservation and planned use of locations with indispensable features. Spanish national parks make up 4% of the country. Los Picos de Europa National Park, located in Asturias, is Europe’s largest. Spain has a wide selection of national parks with features that range from wetlands to mountains to volcanic formations.

In 1992 the United Nations (UN) held an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The documents that arose from the Summit were the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21 (the plan of action), and the Statement on Forest Principles. The recommendations set forth in Agenda 21 are aimed at both governments and businesses. Among the steps that the Agenda calls on the travel industry to take are: to increase recycling, reuse residues, reduce waste, manage and protect the waters, increase environmental awareness, and to establish worldwide policies. The Declaration and the Agenda are the documents by which most policies relating to the environment and Eco-Tourism, developed after 1992, are based.

In April of 1995, Lanzarote (Canary Islands), a popular destination for Eco-tourists, hosted the World Conference on Sustainable Tourism. Sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Conference produced a charter regarding sustainable tourism. The Charter calls on governments, at all levels, to draw-up a ction plans according to the principles of the Charter. It also agreed to refer the Charter to the UN Secretary-General so that the UN’s bodies, agencies, and cooperative international organizations can adopt it for submission to the General Assembly. The Rio Declaration and recommendations from Agenda 21 guided the participants. They also gave consideration to the Manila Declaration on World Tourism, and The Hague Declaration on Tourism.

Also in the Spring of 1995, the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization (WTO), which represents the governments of 125 countries, organized an international forum in Cadiz. The Forum was a follow-up to a conference in 1989 at The Hague which resulted in the adoption of The Hague Declaration on Tourism. The Cadiz Forum was targeted to all levels of government officials who make the decisions that affect tourism. More than 465 delegates from 72 countries were in attendance. Divided into three sections, the Forum included protecting the environment in its primary session.

The WTO, the World Travel & Tourism Council (which represents 75 of the top companies in the industry), and the Earth Council (which monitors the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Rio agreements) joined in producing a booklet entitled Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry. This booklet reviews three basic means that can be applied to Eco-tourism: taking or increasing steps to protect human health and the environment; adjusting the costs of goods or services to include the costs of recycling and/or proper waste disposal; and the incorporation of voluntary plans to manage products and processes responsibly.

Hotels form one of the largest aspects of the tourism industry. An award winning leader in the movement toward Eco-tourism is Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts. The company’s strong commitment to Eco-tourism lead it to become the first hotel chain to produce an environmental operations manual in 1991. Inter-Continental’s 200-page manual includes a 134-point checklist which evaluates conservation, waste management and air-emissions, among others. It encourages its hotels and resorts to, whenever possible, choose methods that will be least damaging to the environment. The policy is based on the reduce, reuse, and recycle principle.

Along with its manual, Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts has a six-point Environmental Commitment. The points of the Commitment are to conserve natural resources, to select products from environmentally responsible sources, to minimize waste, to acknowledge the different regional needs, to identify ways to participate in local environmental efforts, and to develop awareness of environmental issues. Some goals of Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts are the eventual elimination of the use of Chlorofluorcarbon (CFC) refrigerants, environmental audits of its hotels and resorts, and an awards scheme to motivate and recognize its staff. The Inter-Continental hotels in Spain are the Princesa Sofia in Barcelona and the Castellana in Madrid.
Intercontinental Hotel, Madrid
The Castellana has an Environmental Committee and among its many efforts is to help increase awareness of the environment. One example being the organization of a painting contest for the children of the hotel employees so that they could learn about the environment. All of the children won awards for their participation.

Since the environment is beneficial to everyone, the Inter-Continental decided to share the manual with its competitors worldwide. It has also made recommendations which led to the founding of the International Hotels Environmental Initiative (IHEI). The IHEI published a manual closely based on the Inter-Continental’s. This has helped assure that 5,000 environmentally conscious hotel rooms exist in Spain, in all price ranges. Throught the world, the IHEI covers 1.2 million In over 60 countries.

A major means of Eco-touristic accommodations is No-trace camping. No-trace camping is where when the next person arrives at the former camp sight, no-trace remains that anyone camped there before. This is achieved by taking the necessary steps to avoid damaging the environment. The most common environmental offenses that campers make are the cutting of trees or shrubs for firewood, and the improper disposal of garbage. Camping, is quite popular in Spain. Many people prefer the freedom and closeness with nature that camping provides to a hotel or bungalow. Spain provides more than 800 campgrounds which have a total capacity of approximately 400,000 campers. Like hotels, they are rated according to their amenities. Emissions from transportation are one of the greatest detriments to the environment. Marbella trafficNot only is the region in which the emissions originated affected but the pollution helps contribute to the problem of global warming. A major player in the tourism industry is air travel. Air travel is becoming the world’s most popular form of mass transportation. A study conducted by the US based, non- governmental, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that as air travel increases, so does its negative environmental impact. Airplanes are responsible for air, noise, and water pollution. Runoff from de-icing chemicals causes the water pollution. The NRDC found that while the regulations regarding emissions from automobiles and factories becomes stricter, international air industry regulations have yet to effectively change. Spain along with other countries has called for worldwide standards to reduce aircraft emissions.

It is with transportation where the benefit of an organized group, as opposed to an individual independent tourist, is most visible. A group will use one vehicle there by reducing the emissions that enter the atmosphere, as opposed to private cars for the same number of persons. The use of mass transportation, walking, cycling, or riding horseback is most in keeping with Eco-touristic principles. Spain recently designated, or is in the process of designating, 389 kilometers of abandoned routes (railroad, mining, etc.) as public domains . These routes, located in scenic regions, are now dedicated for the exclusive use of hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. Designating an additional 200 kilometers of routes is under consideration.

The corporate world’s role in Eco-tourism supports the local economies through employment and investment. It is in the purchase of souvenirs by which Eco-tourists, as individuals, can have their greatest impact. The purchase of regionally traditional items that are not detrimental to the environment (e.g., taxidermic animals), helps the population to support themselves while maintaining their traditions. Buying souvenirs such as glasswork in the Balearic Isles, ironwork in Castilla, and weaving in Granada, in small, locally-owned shops insures that the profits remain in the community.

In the past few years, Eco-tourism has increased in popularity. This popularity is to such an extent that measures have had to be taken to preserve the environment from well-meaning Eco-Tourist. Most tourists are not aware of how the simple things that they do while exploring can destroy the very environment at which they have come to marvel. This problem has not occurred only in Spain but throughout the world. The popular solutions have been to increase entrance fees to national parks and wildlife preserves, limit access to organized tours, and limiting the number of tourist within a set period.

Is Eco-tourism a trend that will eventually fade away? The tourism industry is realizing that it can no longer afford to support the type of tourism which will eventually destroy itself. In this age of modern transportation, few locations are inaccessible to tourists. Therefore, steps must be taken in order not to destroy the destinations or negatively alter the native inhabitants way of life. Tourists are learning that the passion, which attracts them to a particular destination, needs to extend to making the choices that will preserve it. With protected lands, treaties and conferences, businesses and governments making adjustments, the move is in the right direction. Eco -tourism must survive. It is the only way to insure that quality locales and the human resources which support them will be around for future generations.

Deirdre Nicole Webb-Hicks
A journalist/photographer, lives in both the United States and Europe.

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