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Versión Español | september 2013


OAS Member States Commit to Advancing Geotourism in the Americas

At the recently held XXI Inter-American Travel Congress, ministers and senior officials responsible for tourism adopted the Declaration of San Pedro Sula on Geotourism in the Americas, effectively advancing and deepening the sustainable tourism approach of the two most recent ministerial meetings. At the meeting, held September 5-6 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, countries committed to work together to support and energize the tourism sector, one of the most significant drivers of economic activity in the region.

OAS Member States Commit to Advancing Geotourism in the Americas

The discussions held and the Declaration adopted during the meeting reflect an ongoing evolution in the understanding and treatment of tourism. While tourism continues to mature as an important economic driver and employment creator, there is a growing trend to adopt a more integrated approach to tourism. In her intervention, Sherry Tross, OAS-Executive Secretary for Integral Development stressed that today, tourism requires "an integrated approach that recognizes the contribution of the large corporations as well as the micro, small and medium sized tourism enterprises, that caters to the visitor and the resident and delivers value to both, that plans for future generations while optimizing the benefits for current ones, and that acknowledges that sustainability is a multidimensional concept that requires planning, coordination, and buy-in from the full range of stakeholders, both public and private."

“In tourism, the ultimate product is the destination and its people. Sustaining the destination's character and building on its unique attributes is a win for both residents and visitors” says Jonathan Tourtellot, the tourism expert who originally coined the term "geotourism".
(Read more below)

Geotourism is a concept that encompasses this integral approach. It is comprehensive in the sense that it goes beyond tourism that minds environmental sustainability - ecotourism - to include aspects related to history, living culture, heritage and the development of local communities.

In his inaugural address, OAS Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin spoke to the need to involve local communities and different actors in this effort: “If we can agree at the hemispheric level on the importance of geotourism to benefit communities, at the national level we should be able to gather the participation of all stakeholders to achieve our goals.”  

For her part, Maria Antonieta Guillen, Vice President of Honduras, noted in her inaugural address that geotourism is an issue of "special interest" not only for the national government, but also for the private sector and civil society because, "it generates foreign currency, encourages peace, and emphasizes the identity and culture of different communities."The Vice President explained that geotourism also serves" as a mechanism to increase current levels of inclusion and citizen participation.”  

The Congress, which was established in 1939, continues to be the principal hemispheric forum for dialogue and policy development in this sector. Participants also included representatives of the private sector, academia, civil society and high-level experts, who partook in substantive dialogue and emphasized the need for further cooperation and public-private partnerships to advance geotourism in the region.  

Going forward, governments have the opportunity to continue working with the organization to make the transition from policy dialogue to concrete regional actions. In her closing remarks, OAS-SEDI Executive Secretary, Sherry Tross, illustrated this point by recognizing the work of the Federation of Central American Small Hotels (FECAHP) which grew out of an originally OAS funded initiative. Ms. Tross noted in her speech that this initiative was “a big idea that with a small investment and committed partners has positively impacted relationships, business opportunities and operations, and become a strong sustainable entity on its own.”  

By the conclusion of the Congress, countries had reaffirmed their commitment to the process and the governments of Barbados, Peru and Guyana offered to host the next three Inter-American Tourism Congresses, ensuring continuity through 2016.  For further information visit the XXI Congress’ website.

Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot

Jonathan Tourtellot, Fellow Emeritus for the National Geographic Society who originated the concept of geotourism, shared his views with OAS-SEDI on the Declaration and on the potential of this type of tourism for Latin America and the Caribbean: “It is fitting that this Geotourism Declaration comes from a meeting in San Pedro Sula, because Honduras was the first country to sign the National Geographic Geotourism Charter in 2004. What's more, Honduran representatives contributed to the wording of that Charter.  Since then, the Charter—basically a set of principles for destinations to steer by—has been signed by places ranging from Norway to the Cook Islands, all with little or no change in wording.

The geotourism approach—sustaining and enhancing geographical character—means thinking about the place as a whole. Geotourism assets include everything from special natural or historic sites to beautiful scenery and architecture, as well as local cultural experiences such as music, dance, or gastronomy.

The idea is to create a "virtuous circle" for a place and its people: Their unique set of assets can attract beneficial types of tourists, who will spend money locally, which provides an incentive to take good care of those assets, which will attract more beneficial tourism. That's why good geotourism must be community driven. As a former Honduran president said, "It's not top down. It's bottom up."

In economic terms, the geotourism approach provides market differentiation: "Our place provides a combination of travel experiences like no other." Undifferentiated mass sun-and-sand tourism, by contrast, is environmentally destructive and vulnerable to being undersold by a competing destination.

Any LAC destination whose citizens take pride in their place is a good candidate for geotourism. Some destinations that have used a geotourism type of approach include Praia do Forte, Bahia, in Brazil and Sierra Gorda, Queretaro in Mexico. Individual geotourism projects have been completed or are underway in various LAC locales, including Chile, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, Guatemala, Peru, and of course, Honduras.”

Visit www.geotourism.org for more.

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