WWF and the Swedish Ecotourism Association appeal to all arctic travellers to support plans for ecotourism certificationWWF, the conservation organization, and the Swedish Ecotourism Association (Svensk Ekoturism Foreningen), today called for all tourists visiting the Arctic to back plans for a new certification programme for tour operators to the region.
The LINKS programme, short for Linking Tourism and Conservation in the Arctic, will certify arctic tourism businesses that operate in a socially and environmentally responsible way and will assist in marketing these businesses to travellers.
Initially a joint initiative of WWF, the State of Alaska, and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, LINKS is now an official project of the Arctic Council, the high level inter-governmental forum consisting of all eight arctic countries and indigenous peoples' organizations.
The Swedish Ecotourism Association launched its own ecotourism quality label in February this year and is backing the call for an Arctic-wide certification programme. Sweden's scheme, called Nature's Best, is Europe's first, and the world's second, clearly defined national ecotourism label.
WWF and the Swedish Ecotourism Association will discuss the development of LINKS with tour operators, government agencies, scientists, researchers and representatives of local communities and indigenous peoples at the first ever Arctic Ecotourism Conference in Hemavan, Sweden from April 25th to 28th.
The certification programme would mean businesses which adhere to WWF's Principles and Codes of Conduct for arctic tourism ( www.ngo.grid.no/wwfap/core/about/guidelines.html) would be able to carry a special logo to market their tours.
The programme would be marketed to travellers through an interactive website that will help them choose more sustainable businesses and provide further information about the Arctic, its environment and cultures.
Samantha Smith, director of WWF's Arctic Programme, said: "Certification is a key way to ensure that tourism helps arctic communities and the arctic environment. Education, regulation and planning development are also important. But the success of certification, and the future of tourism in the Arctic, will ultimately depend upon travellers who choose their trips wisely.
"Tourism in the Arctic can be a positive force for local communities and the environment. It can build awareness of the Arctic and conservations issues. But we do not support tourism at any price. The certification system will ensure that best practice is common practice in the travel business."
Staffan Widstrand, from the Swedish Ecotourism Association, said: "The new Swedish ecotourism label is called Nature's Best because travellers who choose a holiday with one of the operators displaying the new label can expect to find the best travel experiences in nature: best not only for the travellers own travel experience, but also best for nature and for the local community.
"We look forward to working closely with LINKS, and we see great synergy for several northern Swedish tour operators who are now labeling their tours with the Nature's Best logo. We want to make the travel choice easier for the traveller with benefits all round: for the traveller, for conservation, for local communities, and for the businesses themselves."
The Arctic Ecotourism Conference, organized by WWF's Arctic Programme, the Swedish Ecotourism Association, the County Administration of VŠsterbotten, the International Ecotourism Society and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, will also cover ecotourism in the context of conservation, communities, and marketing. It is part of a series of events in the United Nations' Year of Ecotourism (IYE) which culminates in the World Ecotourism Summit in Quebec, Canada from May 19-22. Recommendations from the Arctic Ecotourism Conference will be presented at the Quebec Summit.
The winner of the 2001 Arctic Award for Linking Tourism and Conservation will also be announced at the Conference. The Award gives 10,000 Swiss francs to the individual, business or organisation working in tourism whose innovative and successful efforts result in the most benefit to the arctic environment.
For further information:
Samantha Smith, WWF Arctic Programme, tel: +47 45 02 21 49, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Staffan Widstrand, The Swedish Ecotourism Association, tel +46-70-657 33 24, email: email@example.com
Julian Woolford, WWF Arctic Programme, tel: +47 93 00 64 47, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to editors:
A variety of certification schemes already exist and some are more comprehensive than others. WWF supports and recommends the use of certification schemes where these support nature conservation and sustainable use. Standards should include performance criteria and should be underpinned by complementary processes such as benchmarking.
WWF's work on ecotourism in the Arctic
WWF has worked on tourism in the Arctic since 1995. WWF's work on arctic tourism is based on the idea that tourism industry and conservation interests share a common goal: preserving the arctic environment that, with arctic cultures, is the basis for tourism in the region. For further information on WWF's Ten Principles of Arctic Tourism, visit: http://www.grida.no/wwfap
The Swedish Ecotourism Association
The Swedish Ecotourism Association was formed in 1996, with the one aim to promote ecotourism development, both in Sweden and internationally. It is open to anyone who wants to support that goal. It has about 140 corporate members. The other members are travel professionals, single ecotourists, schools, institutions, students and media professionals.
The Arctic Council
The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses the environment and development challenges faced by the Arctic governments and the people of the Arctic
The members of the Council are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America. The Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council, the Aleutian International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council and Gwich'in Council International are Permanent Participants in the Council. Non-arctic states, inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary organizations and non-governmental organizations, including WWF, are observers.
The activities of the Council focus on the protection of the Arctic environment and sustainable development as a means of improving the economic, social and cultural well-being of the north.
The Council meets at the ministerial level biennially. The Chair and Secretariat of the Council rotates every two years among the eight Arctic States, beginning with Canada in 1996. The United States served as Chair from 1998-2000 and Finland has assumed the Chair from 2000-2002. Iceland will be the next chair of the Council.