On the occasion of World Tourism Day, celebrated each year on September 27th, countries and territories participating in the Indian Ocean Blue Year in 2021-2022 reaffirm their commitment to sustainable tourism, with the aim of reconciling economic and social development with the protection of the marine and coastal environment in this area with high touristic potential.
Coastal territories of the Western Indian Ocean have launched several concrete actions to encourage sustainable tourism, as part of the Indian Ocean Blue Year project: waste collection on the Mozambican beaches, awareness raising on plastic waste in Tanzania, creation of a room dedicated to blue economy at the National Museum of the Comoros, etc. The objective is to attract visitors, while developing their awareness, and the one of their host communities, about the protection of the sites they admire.
Tourism accounts for a key part of the economic activity of Indian Ocean countries. Tourism and travel industry brought 21.2% of its GDP to the Seychelles archipelago in 2017. H.E. Marcel Escure, Ambassador of France to Regional Cooperation in the Indian Ocean, emphasizes the will to develop sustainable tourism: "A tourism that remains viable over time, that is accountable for its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts and that meets the needs of tourists, tourism professionals, host communities and the environment."
As a biodiversity hot spot with a large diversity of natural and historical tourism opportunities, the southwestern Indian Ocean is nevertheless seeing its assets negatively impacted by climate change, rapid coastal development, and extreme weather events, among others. 80% of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean Commission countries are currently threatened. "In addition to the substantial environmental consequences, the area is losing one of its most significant tourism attraction. Health crises, such as chikungunya, dengue or Covid-19 also show the vulnerability of the area’s economies, which are highly dependent on the tourist flow," said the Ambassador.
Faced with these challenges, Indian Ocean countries work to develop sustainable tourism and to encourage all blue economy actors to foster the emergence and dissemination of virtuous tourism models: low-carbon, respectful of natural ecosystems and marine and coastal biodiversity, and allowing for inclusive local development.
The "Vanilla Islands" association brings together the representatives of the tourist offices and the tourist authorities of the Indian Ocean, since 2010. It aims at encouraging joint tourism development by grouping several islands’ assets in joint trips. Visiting several islands during the same trip also reduces the environmental impacts of tourism, for a better preservation of ecosystems.
Involving local populations in the decision-making and implementation of tourism development policies, encouraging integrated coastal management, extending marine protected areas and giving priority to biodiversity conservation are among the solutions to follow the course of sustainable and inclusive tourism.
"We work towards strengthening regional cooperation, through international and regional organizations and through initiatives such as the Indian Ocean Blue Year. France has chosen to make blue economy regional cooperation, including sustainable tourism, one of the priorities of its Presidency of the Indian Ocean Commission in 2021-2022," adds Escure.