Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the world. By the year 2010, the World Tourism Organization predicts that there will be one billion international tourists and more than US$1,500 billion generated in revenue. As tourism increases in mountain regions around the world, environmental and social impacts can also be expected to increase. Tourism_x0019_s potential for improving environmental conservation and community well-being is nevertheless considerable. The key to accessing this potential is the direct involvement of local communities within a climate of supportive regional or national policy. Policy makers, non-governmental organizations, and practitioners of mountain tourism must therefore work to create opportunities that center on local communities, promote conservation efforts and link conservation with enterprise development. In response to the growing interest in international mountain tourism, the Mountain Forum conducted an electronic conference from April 13-May 18, 1998, on the topic of _x001C_Community-Based Mountain Tourism: Practices for Linking Conservation and Enterprise._x001D_ During the conference, 460 stakeholders and interested individuals from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific, Europe, South America and North America participated or provided case studies.
The five thematic areas discussed were marketing strategies, organizational structures, local knowledge, gender, and revenue reinvestment. For each theme, conference participants identified practices and tools that are increasing the flow of positive benefits to mountain communities and ecosystems while reducing the negative impacts of tourism. The practices identified in this report appear to be creating a more equitable distribution of tourism opportunities and benefits. All are based on the principles of local control, partnerships, sustainable development, and conservation. Although these practices are derived from specific case studies, many of them have the potential to be applied globally in mountain areas. A total of 74 case studies from around the world are organised into six major categories:
- planning and assessment,
- infrastructure and capacity building,
- institutional development,
- zoning and regulation,
- financial sustainability, and
Conference participants also identified and described various actions that policy makers and practitioners can implement to facilitate sustainable and equitable mountain tourism. Many of these are intrinsically linked to mountain features such as ecosystem fragility, political and economic marginality, and cultural diversity. They include the encouragement and reinforcement of " holistic planning and management strategies, " local ownership and control of resources, " supportive national and regional policies, " balance between highland and lowland resource flows and decision-making, " integrating local knowledge and external knowledge, " infrastructure development appropriate to fragile environments, " reinvesting tourism revenues into conservation, " equitable distribution of tourism benefits and opportunities, " organizational capacity building, " skill-based training and awareness-raising, " full integration of women, " partnerships, and " continuing exchange of experiences and ideas.
The case studies provided indicate that community leadership and a favourable national or regional policy environment are two central components of successful community-based mountain tourism initiatives. Policies and actions that link conservation, enterprise development and community control in mountain tourism have the potential to address one of the most important challenges facing the 21st century: sustainable management of mountain resources and a sustainable future for mountain populations.