Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Global food miles row enters tourism sector

Written by Solomon Mburu
Maasai dancers welcome tourists at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

22-August-2007: The food miles row that has been rocking Kenyan exports to the European Union has now entered the tourism industry.

Food miles labels have been used to show the distance that food travels from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer and its accompanying contribution to environmental pollution.

The labels, which are seen as punitive and unnecessary, have been giving Kenyan exporters sleepless nights and various efforts have been put in place to counter them. The concept has now been introduced in tourism and seeks to highlight the increasing contribution that air travel used by tourists has on the global environment.

If applied globally, analysts say it is bound to negatively affect economies of tourism dependent countries like Kenya.

Despite the perceived serious implications, the tourism industry in Kenya has been silent on the issue.

Ms Judy Gona, the executive director of Ecotourism Kenya, an organization that promotes sustainable tourism and responsible practices, said that it is time that the industry considers the implications of this development.

“We need to take the initiative and start thinking about how the industry will react to this,” said Ms Gona.

Developing countries have held back on contributing to the carbon footprints debate since they are not part of the targeted list of countries that contribute most to global warming in the Kyoto protocol.

According to Ms Gona, all stakeholders in the industry including the government at policy level, and the private sector should start raising the issue for consideration.

She said that implications of the concept “require individual action from all stakeholders” and they should therefore involve themselves in the developments.

The Kenya Tourist Board managing director Dr Ong’ong’a Achieng said that the West was using the pollution concept to stifle development of industries in developing countries.

“The biggest contributors to pollution are the US, Russia, China and the EU whereas the level of pollution by the least industrialized countries is far lower,” said Mr Ong’ong’a.

He said that the industry in Kenya has done a lot to maintain high levels of environmental protection. “Kenya is rated as one of the leading ecotourism destinations in the world because of sound practice,” he said.

Developed countries should tackle the pollution problem in their own backyards and should not bring it to us, said the doctor.

The “tourism miles” concept has of late been snowballing and has gained prominence as a global issue. The Second International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism that will be held in Davos, Switzerland on October 1-3 is meant to discuss this issue.

Ms Gona, who is going to represent her organization at the conference, said that one of the issues she will raise is the lack of awareness about the concept and its implications in developing countries.

The World Tourism Organization, which is organizing the conference, has in the past sought to allay fears that the new concept will lead to a downfall of the tourism industry in developing countries.

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