Sustainable tourism for climate resilience and women’s empowerment in SIDS

66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66): Side event by FAO, Mountain Partnership and Slow Food International

@FAO/Jesse Alpert


Experts and practitioners made the case to promote sustainable tourism across the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and empower women at a virtual event on 16 March 2022 organized by FAO, the Mountain Partnership and Slow Food International in collaboration with the government of Palau and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Around 140 attendees joined this interactive session moderated by Angelica Jácome Daza, Director of FAO’s Office of Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and Landlocked Developing Countries.

Speakers championed ecofriendly and gender-sensitive practices in the tourism sector in SIDS countries, as a way to protect their fragile ecosystems, while attracting foreign visitors who can contribute to fostering local jobs, incomes and women’s empowerment. 

In line with this call, the event showcased an innovative project implemented in Palau through partnership between FAO, Sustainable Travel International, Slow Food International and the Palau Bureau of Tourism, to make this Pacific island one of the world’s first carbon neutral destination. The endeavour is part of the subprogramme Empowering food systems and strengthening the local capacities and resilience of SIDS in the agrifood sector, funded by several resource partners under FAO’s Flexible Multi-partner Mechanism.

The initiative will tackle climate change and boost community resilience by neutralizing tourism’s carbon footprint, improving the livelihoods of local food producers, increasing local food security; while empowering women to better participate in the tourism value chains and conserving coastal ecosystems that act as carbon sinks.

“As we recover from COVID-19 and its devastating impact on our tourism economy, we are really looking to build back in a more circular and thoughtful way,” stressed H.E. Ilana Seid, Palau Ambassador to the United Nations. “By implementing programmes that address various Sustainable Development Goals concurrently, we hope that our path forward is one that is not only more secure and more prosperous, but also more equitable to women.”

Not any tourism, but one that is sustainable and inclusive

Significantly dependent on tourism, SIDS’ economies are among the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted international travels. In 2020, their Gross Domestic Product dropped by 6.9% versus 4.8% in all other developing countries, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund. Despite their economic need to recover the flows of tourists as fast as possible, SIDS have been encouraged to transform the sector by mainstreaming gender and environmentally sustainable practices to protect themselves, including their economies, in the long-term.

“Women make a significant contribution in the tourism sector to service provision, employment and as farmers and entrepreneurs. Yet they continue to face structural constraints that prevent them from fully developing that potential,” said Ismahane Elouafi, FAO Chief Scientist. “We need to translate our talk about gender equality into policies. CSW66 is an occasion to spark the necessary changes to empower rural woman. The tourism sector provides a great opportunity for women to access decent paying jobs, create assets and wealth and boost their productivities and incomes.”

Promoting resilience, health, equality and indigenous values

Because of their fragile ecosystems and populations particularly vulnerable to climate change, isolation and limited food availability and economic opportunities, SIDS could greatly benefit from investments targeting practices that are both sustainable and attractive to foreign tourists, acknowledged RosaLaura Romeo, Programme Coordinator at the Mountain Partnership. “Tourists want to see the local culture. They want to experience the local traditions. This is why it is so important to continue protecting the traditional food systems while promoting healthy and balanced diets.”

In a similar, yet critical perspective on the SIDS’ food culture, Michele Rumiz, Director of Slow Food Travel, rebuked the economic logic perpetuating their overreliance on foods that are not local and often not healthy. “Palau and all the small islands across the world are suffering from climate change and unfair and unjust food systems that basically make them extremely dependent on imports of staple products. So, the way they feed themselves is also contributing to exacerbate the problem of climate change.”

In closing, Dirk Glaesser, Director of UNWTO’s Sustainable Development Department, called for transformative change towards preventing global crises like COVID-19 and its knock-on effects that cause even larger difficulties to those who already face the burden of inequalities. “If tourism development business is not sustainably managed, it can lead both to increase gender inequality as well as damaging environmental impact. Tourism's role in the economic transition towards a green and blue economy in SIDS must therefore be gender responsive.”

WATCH EVENT Passcode: ERW2022+