Vatican issues statement on sustainable tourism as development tool

Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which Pope Francis recently set up, issues its first statement. Tourism represents 10 per cent GDP and 7 per cent of total exports. One person in 11 is employed in the sector. Sustainable tourism must protect the environment, the cultural heritage of peoples, the dignity of workers, and the disadvantaged. The Dicastery and the UN are on the same wavelength.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, recently established by the Holy See, has for the first time in its history issued a statement on 29 June for World Tourism Day on 27 September.

The message is centred on ‘Sustainable Tourism: a tool for development", the same as this year’s World Tourism Day by the UN World Tourism Organisation in the framework of its ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017’.

The Vatican statement first notes that tourism is an important part of the world economy. "According to the World Tourism Organization’s latest Barometer, for the year 2016, the number of international tourist arrivals is around 1.2 billion. Worldwide, the sector accounts for 10 per cent of GDP and 7 per cent of total exports, also considering that 1 out of 11 jobs are in tourism."

For this reason, tourism "can be an important tool for growth and the fight against poverty." As the Church's social doctrine says, development is not only linked to economic growth but must be "integral" and “foster the development of each man and of the whole man." For the Vatican Dicastery, the concept of "integral development" is close to the concept of "sustainable development" introduced by the UN in the 1980s.

Indeed, tourism must also be "sustainable". This “means that it must be responsible, and not destructive or detrimental to the environment nor to the socio-cultural context of the locality. Moreover, it must be particularly respectful of the population and their heritage, with a view to safeguarding personal dignity and labour rights, especially those of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people.”

For the United Nations, sustainable tourism is a "as a positive instrument towards the eradication of poverty, the protection of the environment, the improvement of quality of life and the economic empowerment of women and youth and its contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, especially in developing countries."

In view of this convergence between the views promoted by the Vatican Dicastery and the UN agency, the statement highlights the specific features of tourism "in the light of the Gospel".

"We recognize God as the creator of the universe and father of all human beings, and He who makes us brothers. We must put the human person as the focus of our attention; we recognize the dignity of each person and the relationships among persons; we must share the principle of the common destiny of the human family and the universal destination of earthly goods. The human being acts not as a master, but as a ‘responsible steward’. In acknowledging each other as brothers, we will understand ‘the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift’ and our duties of solidarity, justice and universal charity.”

The statement goes on to ask “how can these principles be practically applied to the development of tourism? What are the consequences for tourists, entrepreneurs, workers, governors, and local communities? It is an open reflection.”

To finish, the Dicastery invites "all those involved in the sector to engage in serious discernment and to promote practices towards attaining this, accompanying behaviours and lifestyle changes towards a new way of relating to each other.” It also cites as possible venues to explore some Catholic experiences “based on projects of community tourism, cooperation, solidarity, and an appreciation of the great artistic heritage which is an authentic way of beauty.”