Reading a study from a large international organizations is a bit like reading a travel brochure – a cursory examination will give you a basic idea of what’s going on, but if you take time to dig into the details, you’ll find a world of nuance.

Okay, that’s a pretty awful metaphor, but bear with us here. We just got through reading (well, skimming) a recent report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) which was a bit…er, dry. Let’s face it, no one reads these things for the great characters and surprise plot twists.

At any rate, the UNWTO just ratified a pretty important document known as the Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics. In all probability, you’ll most likely never hear those words in that order again, but you might be very interested in knowing how it will affect your sojourns, escapes, trips, and adventures in the future.

The convention is a significant step towards ensuring that tourism development is done with full respect for sustainable development, social issues, local community development, improves understanding between cultures and addresses labor issues. Basically, it took the old guidelines for ethical tourism and turned them into legally binding resolutions for states who ratify the treaty.

So how will this affect your upcoming trip to an island in the Gulf of Thailand?

Well, it probably won’t, to be honest; as with most declarations of this scope and magnitude, changes won’t come overnight. It will likely be many months or even years until the momentum builds to something that will start to produce visible results, but the die has been cast.

One phrase that keeps coming up in stories related to the resolution is sustainable tourism. Indeed, effort will be put into promoting the idea that tourism is a result of sustainable development, rather than the other way around. Too many times we’ve seen pristine destinations ruined by rampant over-development, and then – when the trees are cut down and the beaches have washed away and the crowds have moved on to the next spot – locals decry their lost livelihoods.

This is not the way forward, says the resolution. You don’t try to make a place more beautiful because people are visiting; you keep a place beautiful because people are visiting.

Another big issue is the rights of workers and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry. Ugly stories in recent years have highlighted abuse of the workforce to cater to the desires of bigger, wealthier crowds. The UNWTO convention will promote standards that ensure workers in the industry are treated fairly and with dignity.

Indeed, maximizing the economic benefits for the host community and creating stronger linkages with the local economy is key to keeping these destinations vibrant, alive, and attractive to successive generations of tourists.

But there is still work to be done. For instance, the European group Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism (RHRT) recently stated in an open letter to UNWTO, “the focus on a right to tourism diverts attention from other human rights that are still threatened in the context of tourism, such as the right to decent work, the right to housing and the specific rights of children, women and indigenous people.”

As an example, the RHRT takes issue with the trend of “orphanage tourism”, in which tourists ‘drop in’ to an orphanage for a day or two and then leave, often creating waves rather than solving problems.

But as we said, this is a large, complicated, multi-faceted issue with many angles and no easy answers, but this move from a simple framework into a more binding resolution is a very good step. We’ve seen the positive effects that principled, structured tourism can bring to everyone involved, and are happy to play a more active role in promoting it to all who join Smiling Albino on the adventure of a lifetime.

If you have any questions about the principles that the UNWTO resolution promotes or how you can experience them on your upcoming Smiling Albino trip, please drop us a line.