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Geotourism takes off

18 July 2007

A novel kind of tourism known as ‘geotourism’ is slowly but surely emerging. Geotourism is a relatively new term for travel that focuses on a destination’s unique culture and history. What is more, it aims to help visitors enrich those qualities of the destination instead of the usual practice of turning the place into a ‘tourist spot” or “tourist trap.”

A typical geotourism trip could include traveling to a seaside clam shack for fried clams, listening to jazz in a city, and visiting a small organic coffee farm in Guatemala.

In fact, the term geotourism is so new that few tourists use it, but travel professionals employ it to describe it as a step beyond ecotourism. In other words, while geotourism encourages treating nature gently, it is also about making a place better by visiting and spending money.

Rhode Island, in May 2007, became the latest region to sign the Geotourism Charter by the National Geographic Society, joining Arizona, Guatemala, Honduras, Norway, and Romania in a commitment to the ideals of geotourism.

Rhode Island has set up a project to come up with ways to preserve its unique assets such as Narragansett Bay at the heart of Rhode Island and its colonial-era architecture in Newport and Providence.

Other areas have made maps with the help of National Geographic highlighting geotourism destinations, including the Appalachian region and Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

According to Jonathan B Tourtellot, who became the National Geographic Society’s first director of sustainable destinations in 2001, the present-day capability to move quickly around the globe has also exposed places to “various forms of assault.”

It was Tourtellot who coined the term ‘geotourism’ and it first appeared in print in a 2002 study about the idea by the Travel Industry Association of America and National Geographic Traveler magazine.

The philosophy of geotourism is based on the principle of benefit to the local population. When a destination highlights the features that make it special, it not only draws more tourists but also helps the local community appreciate its own uniqueness. That, in turn, motivates them to preserve the cultural or natural resources that keep tourists coming.

Supporters of the concept of geotourism say that it also creates jobs that employ local people and income for local business owners.

For example, in Guatemala, small coffee growers who might struggle to make ends meet are opening up their farms to tourists in a geotourism initiative, according to Lelei Lelaulu, president and chief executive of Counterpart International, a Washington-based non-profit international development agency.

Counterpart International joined with the government of Guatemala and Anacafe, which represents 75,000 Guatemalan coffee producers, to sign the Geotourism Charter.

Tourists get an opportunity to talk with residents about local issues, which opens up the minds of both sides, Lelaulu adds, and even has elements of peace-building.

A 2006 report by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation has estimated that worldwide, international tourism alone generates $2 billion a day in receipts. In all, 70 countries earned over $1 billion in 2005 from international tourism.

The report also forecast that, by 2010, international tourist arrivals will reach 1 billion annually. That comes to about three international trips for every person in the United States.





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