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Origins of the Cape Town Declaration

February 3, 2022
Harold Goodwin
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The Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations was the fruit of an official side-event of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002. The conference brought together people from the industry, governments, and inter-governmental organisations to reflect on the South African national policy commitment to Responsible Tourism and the Responsible Tourism policy of the UK's Association of Independent Tour Operators.

Thirty years previously, the UN had held the first Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, in 1972, and declared that a

"point has been reached in history when we must shape our actions throughout the world with more prudent care for their environmental consequences. Through ignorance or indifference, we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and wellbeing depend."

Earth Summits followed in Nairobi in 1982 and Rio in 1992. As the millennium approached, there was increasing concern that progress was not being made rapidly enough; that the concepts of sustainable development and sustainability were vague aspirations often used merely to legitimate an action or investment. The words were widely used for greenwashing, with little more than lip service paid to the ambition.

The Cape Town Declaration celebrated the world's diversity and its broad economic, social and environmental agenda and called upon all stakeholders at the destination level "to take responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism and create better places for people to live in and for people to visit."

At the core of responsibility is

"transparent and auditable reporting of progress towards achieving responsible tourism targets and benchmarking is essential to the integrity and credibility of our work, to the ability of all stakeholders to assess progress, and to enable consumers to exercise effective choice."

The Declaration called for a more balanced relationship between hosts and guests in destinations, a balance that required government, local communities and businesses to cooperate on practical initiatives to tackle issues in destinations. Any form of tourism can be more responsible.

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