The United Nations has declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017), recognizing the importance of international tourism, and the designation of an international year in fostering a better understanding among people. The resolution also leads to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilizations and in gathering a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby strengthening the peace in the World. The IY2017 aims to raise awareness on the contribution of sustainable tourism to development among decision-makers and the general public, while mobilizing all stakeholders to work together in making tourism a catalyst for positive changes.
The European Geoparks Network (EGN) became silver partner of the 2017, International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, following the decision taken during the 38th EGN Coordination Meeting in the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark in September 2016.
With this partnership, the EGN promotes the UNESCO Global Geoparks collectively as sustainable tourism destinations, build new links with the international tourism market and raise the profile and visibility of the UNESCO Global Geoparks among the main players in tourism industry.
Under the theme “Geoparks: Pathways of Sustainable Tourism for Development”, the 14th European Geoparks Conference to take place in the Azores UNESCO Global Geopark (Portugal), is deeply engaged with this United Nations initiative operated by the World Tourism Organization.
The Azores are an excellent example of a region developing tourism on the basis of its own local identity and the local products of the islands, that also provide amazing scenic natural beauties, wildlife, and a clean environment. The region gives high priority to environmental conservation of the islands and the sea surrounding them, to its architectonic patrimony, its traditions and cultural heritage. And a special care is taken to not allow tourism to spoil these values!
As a consequence, the Azores have been internationally recognised for their environmental quality and as a destination for sustainable tourism. In the past few years, the Azores have been nominated for several awards by various international organizations related to sustainable tourism and environmental quality: the first Platinum Quality Coast Award to Azores is an example.
The Azorean islands display a wide range of landscapes, landforms, rocks and structures, closely linked to the dynamics of the Planet Earth and the volcanic nature of these oceanic islands. Among these, its active volcanoes and pristine volcanic landscapes are important resource to enhance value to the nature tourism, namely through geotourism and under the umbrella of the Azores UNESCO Global Geopark.
The richness and quality of the Azorean natural heritage is also visible through the stretches of the original Laurissilva, a subtropical evergreen forest, dating back to the Tertiary period and a true living fossil. The various protected areas of the Azores, as defined under regional, national and international law (e.g. NATURA2000 Network), are nowadays managed by the Islands Natural Parks.
The rich marine life of the Azores, including dolphins, sperm whales, bearded whales, beaked whales, turtles, seabirds, pelagic fish and cold-water corals, is unique. This diversity can be experienced through well-regulated tourist activities, such as diving, snorkelling, and whale-watching boat tours.
There are over 80 walking trails throughout the islands that give one access to several geosites, natural areas and beautiful sightseeing of the Azores.
The associated signalling respects international standards for marking walking trails and provides visitors with extra information on sites to visit.
The Azores Islands are also an important nesting site for seabirds and a resting site for migratory birds diverted from their routes namely by bad weather. Every year the archipelago receives hundreds of birdwatchers from various European countries, especially interested in watching North-American species arriving in the westernmost islands, Corvo and Flores islands.
The development of geotourism in the archipelago through the Azores UNESCO Global Geopark was considered by the EUCC - European Coastal & Marine Union as a case of good practice in sustainable tourism destinations, proving to be a good example of how good management and development of geotourism can generate large socioeconomic benefits to the local economy and serve as a model for other regions to achieve sustainable tourism.
The sustainable exploitation of natural resources is also foreseen at the framework of renewable energy production, in particular wind, hydro and geothermal energy. Currently about 36% of the total energy production originates from renewable resources, targeted at 61% in 2023. The electric efficiency and mobility (e.g. electric cars), are other key issues in Azores, as an insular and discontinues territory and aiming to minimize the use of fossil fuels.
The waste management and the adoption of effective recycling policies are also targeting issues in particular addressed to the environment quality and public health in the archipelago.
Tourism enterprises in rural areas of the Azores have been taken advantage of the restoration of old houses. As an alternative to traditional hotels, this type of accommodation has increased in recent years in almost all the islands, both in quantity and quality, which nowadays is certified by the Miosotis Azores - Green Lodging certification program.