Sustainable Tourism: Sustaining the Environment While Fostering Economic Development

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
January 30, 2009

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries globally and is the largest industry worldwide in number of people employed. The United Nations World Tourism Organization forecasts 1.6 billion yearly tourists by the year 2020. In order to minimize the negative impacts of this growth, and use tourism as a tool for poverty reduction and environmental conservation, the Department of State supports sustainable tourism policies in several fora.
Sustainable tourism is here defined as tourism which maximizes tourism's social and economic benefits to local communities, while reducing negative impacts on the local cultural heritage and environment.
The Department of State actively participates in international negotiations and initiatives related to sustainable tourism.

Caribbean Marine Conservation

The U.S. is a strong supporter of the White Water to Blue Water Initiative, an international alliance of public and private institutions that addresses watershed and marine ecosystem management issues in the Caribbean region. A recent partnership between the International Council of Cruise Lines and Conservation International will promote environmentally sustainable cruise operations in the Caribbean.

Conserving Africa’s Forest Parks

Through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, the U.S. supports ecotourism development in several regional parks. These efforts have resulted in transboundary cooperation and tourism revenue-sharing among parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, home to the endangered mountain gorilla.

Ecotourism in Chile

The Department of State co-funded a project with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Parks of Chile for ecotourism development in Chile as part of the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement (FTA). This project allowed U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Park Service experts to conduct workshops on environmental interpretation and trail building in Puyehue National Park.

Antarctic Tourism

Tourism is a major focus of U.S. Antarctic diplomacy. The U.S. made a series of proposals at the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in May 2007 to minimize the environmental impact and ensure the safety of growing numbers of tourists in Antarctica. All Parties reached consensus discouraging landings of cruise ships with more than 500 passengers. A U.S. proposal was adopted ensuring that only one tourist vessel visits a site at any time; restricting the number of passengers on shore at any one time to 100 or fewer; and maintaining a minimum 1:20 guide-to-passenger ratio while ashore.

Sustainable Consumption and Production

The Department of State participates in the Task Force on Sustainable Tourism Development directed by the UN Environment Program and French Ministry of Economy, Finance and Employment. The task force is part of the International Marrakech Process on Sustainable Consumption and Production. The task force web site can be found at