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Whether kayaking in the Iberá Marshes in Argentina or bird-watching at Ba-Be Lake in Vietnam, tourists are providing income for the conservation of wetlands worldwide, as demonstrated in a new publication launched by the Ramsar Secretariat and UNWTO.

Besides providing essential services such as water, food and energy, wetlands offer significant opportunities for tourism, which can in turn deliver economic benefits for local communities and the sustainable management of wetlands, according to the publication Destination Wetlands: Supporting Sustainable Tourism.

Growth in sustainable tourism not only reflects environmental realities, but also a desire from tourists themselves to embrace green tourism. “There is a trend among tourists of turning towards green forms of tourism, towards destinations that offer wildlife and heritage,” said Cristian Barhalescu, State Secretary, Ministry of Regional Development and Tourism of Romania. “As wetlands, with their diversity and richness, become subject to tourism development, the interconnection between tourism and wetlands should be given special attention by all actors involved.”

Through 14 case studies, covering different wetland types around the world, the publication demonstrates how sustainable tourism practices in and around wetlands can contribute to conservation, economic growth, poverty reduction and support to local cultures.

The publication was launched at the 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP11) in Bucharest, Romania (6-13 July 2012). Held under the theme Wetlands and Tourism, COP11 will debate a landmark Resolution on Wetlands and Tourism, urging sound tourism practices in wetlands.

The focus on tourism at COP11 comes on the back of increasing collaboration between UNWTO and the Ramsar Secretariat. Since 2010, both have been working together towards the development of sustainable wetland tourism, with World Wetlands Day 2012 (2 February) celebrated under the theme “Wetlands and Tourism: A Great Experience”.

“Wetlands are one of tourism’s greatest assets, attracting millions of tourists each year,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. “Working in close partnership with the Ramsar Secretariat, UNWTO is determined to sustainably manage wetland tourism through sound polices and planning, thereby conserving them for the enjoyment of generations to come.”

International tourist arrivals reached 982 million in 2011 and are expected to top one billion in 2012, generating over US$ 1 trillion in international tourism receipts. It is estimated that half of all tourists travel to wetlands, particularly coastal areas.

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