Tourism is the world’s largest service industry, contributing 5% to the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In Kenya, tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner.

This means it has the potential to cause significant social and environmental consequences as it generates crucial revenues. In 1999, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) devised and adopted a global code of ethics for tourism, designed to minimise the negative effects of tourism activity on destinations and local communities.

This code, which was officially recognised by the UN in 2001, became known as the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET). The GCET is a frame of reference for responsible and sustainable tourism.

It is a comprehensive set of principles designed to guide key players in tourism development including governments, the travel industry, communities and tourists, both international and domestic.

The GCET aims to help maximise the sector’s benefits while minimising its potentially negative impact on the environment, cultural heritage and societies across the globe.

Although not legally binding, the GCET features a voluntary implementation mechanism through its recognition of the role of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE), to which stakeholders may refer matters concerning the application and interpretation of the document. The GCET comprises 10 articles that every tourism stakeholder in Kenya needs to be aware of.

Article 1: Tourism’s contribution to mutual understanding and respect between persons and societies

Tourists should respect the social and cultural traditions and practices of all peoples and tourism activities should be conducted in harmony with their laws and customs.

Article 2: Tourism as a vehicle for individual and collective fulfilment

Tourism activities should respect the quality of men and women, promote human rights and be free from exploitation in any form. The UNWTO ‘Protect Children from Exploitation’ campaign draws attention to one of the world’s most vulnerable groups, children caught up in child labour and sexual exploitation and encourages the implementation of professional codes of conduct to protect them.

Article 3: Tourism, a factor of sustainable development

Tourism development should safeguard the natural environment, protect natural resources and minimise waste production. A large part of this goal involves striking the balance between the volume, timing and location of visits.

Article 4: Tourism, a user of cultural heritage of mankind and contributor to its enhancement

Tourism policies and activities should be conducted with respect for artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage. Financial resources from visits to cultural sites and monuments should be used for their upkeep, development and enhancement.

Article 5: Tourism, a beneficial activity for host countries and communities

Local populations, particularly disadvantaged groups, should share in the economic, social and cultural benefits associated with tourism activities. This could be through the employment of the poor in tourism enterprises or the direct sale of local handicrafts and products by the poor.

Article 6: Obligations of stakeholders in tourism development

Tourism professionals have an obligation to provide tourists with objective and honest information; governments should inform their nationals of the dangers they may encounter during their travels abroad; the press should issue honest and balanced information on events and situations that could influence the flow of tourists.

Article 7: Right to Tourism

The many recreational and educational benefits of tourism should be respected and made as widely available as possible. Everybody should have the opportunity to enjoy a safe and fulfilling trip, without discrimination of gender, race, disability or other issues.

Article 8: Liberty for tourist movements

Tourists should have access to places of transit and stay and tourism sites without being subject to excessive formalities of discrimination.

Article 9: Rights of the workers and entrepreneurs in the tourism sector

The fundamental rights of salaried and self-employed workers in the tourism sector and related activities should be guaranteed. In exchange for the freedom to invest and trade, enterprises should become involved in local development and avoid the excessive repatriation of their profits, thereby enabling local communities to benefit from the growth of tourism.

Article 10: Implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism

The public and private stakeholders in tourism development should cooperate in the implementation of these principles and monitor their effective application.

The GCET, as earlier mentioned, is not binding but it can do a whole lot of good to the country if adopted and enforced among key players in the sector.