The World Wetlands Day theme for 2012 is Wetlands and Tourism and is linked to the theme for the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties, COP11: Wetlands, Tourism and Recreation, which will take place in July 2012, in Bucharest, Romania. At least 35 percent of Ramsar Sites around the world have some level of tourism activity and this percentage is consistent throughout all regions.
This year's focus on tourism has opened the way for the Convention and UNWTO to join forces with Ramsar in exploring common issues and concerns and collaborate in advancing sustainable tourism development in the wetlands.
"Every year, millions of tourists fulfill their longing to see and experience the wonders of nature in the wetlands. Celebrating World Wetlands Day under the theme of wetland tourism gives the perfect occasion to recall the relevance of this unique natural scenery as one of tourism's greatest assets and a fundamental cornerstone to its long-term growth while stressing how tourism, when developed and managed in a sustainable way, can be instrumental in safeguarding it," said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.
Responsible, sustainable tourism can support wetland conservation and wise use. Wetlands, their wildlife, and the human communities in and around them can benefit directly from tourism through entry fees, sale of local products, and so on. At the same time, the 'use' of wetlands as tourism locations comes with certain risks. The challenge is to ensure that sustainable tourism practices are being implemented and bring benefits for wetlands, their wildlife and people.
As Mr. Rifai adds: "We would emphasize that tourism businesses, if well informed and prepared to adapt their operations, can certainly promote and support wetland biodiversity and the natural beauty of wetlands."
At COP11, the Ramsar Secretariat, in collaboration with UNWTO, will be launching a case study-based report on tourism in and around Wetlands of International Importance, looking at the direct and indirect impacts of tourism on Ramsar Sites and other wetlands while identifying both the many opportunities and the threats that wetland tourism can bring. Research will also identify key messages for main target groups, land-use as well as wetland policy-makers, local governments, tourism developers, wetland site managers, and others.
To date, the Ramsar Convention has not had a specific focus on wetlands, tourism and recreation.