Recreation and leisure are an important ingredient of the quality of life, particularly at the local level. Recreation and tourism have an environmental impact at global, regional and local levels. In particular, sensitive areas such as national parks and protected areas, mountain areas and coastal zones, suffer from temporary influxes of tourists. Car-free tourist resorts should be promoted together with innovative travel incentives to and from tourist centres.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Agenda 21 recommends that countries should promote such activities, building on The Hague Declaration of Tourism (1989) and the current programmes of the World Tourism Organization and UNEP, making suitable use of museums, heritage sites, zoos, botanical gardens, national parks and other protected areas.
Tourism is of growing importance to the economies of many states. In this economic sector, the concepts of sustainable development and high standards of environment and health are essential for economic success in the medium and long terms. None the less, rapid development of tourism has had a negative impact on the environment and health in some important resort areas.
In South Africa ecotourism has helped reintegrate the country into the world economy while also redistributing wealth to the rural poor.
The Environmental Programme for Europe recommends: (a) furthering developing methods and procedures for putting the concept of environmentally sound tourism into practice, including guidelines for their implementation in other policy sectors and the design, construction and management of tourist facilities taking into account relevant guidelines and recommendations developed by UNEP, OECD and the Council of Europe; (b) introducing or reinforcing the use of economic instruments, wherever appropriate, to protect sensitive areas in combination, inter alia, with the development of environmentally sound forms of transportation; (c) making active use of land-use planning regulations and incentives to secure opportunities for environmentally sound tourism including eco-tourism and local recreation, taking into account sound environmental practices; and (d) developing and installing environmentally sound technologies in leisure infrastructure (e.g. solar energy in remote hotels and lodges, combined heat and power in hotels and recreation centres); and promoting the application of strict environmental standards for the quality of air, water and waste management in tourist centres.
Even one incident with repercussions on environmental health can seriously affect the tourism industry for a considerable time. States should therefore work together to integrate environmental health considerations into their tourism policy. Public authorities and the tourism industry should make available to the public better information on the state of environment and health, so that public pressure can be a force in the drive towards environmentally friendly and healthier tourism. The success of the European Commission's (EC's) Blue Flag initiative (on recreational water quality) demonstrates the importance of the public's role. To promote environmental health in tourism, governments can publish relevant educational materials, brochures, etc. Professional tourism organizations can contribute to better performance by providing guidelines that can be applied to individual management practices. Codes of conduct for tourism are another instrument that can harmonize the interests of providers and consumers of tourist services with environmental health requirements.
There's a growing niche of 'green' travel, aimed at treading lightly and leaving no footprints. Tourists pay to help on archeological digs, count animals that are among endangered species or learn how to camp without leaving anything behind.