LONDON, Nov 12 (Reuters) The world's booming tourism industry is both a contributor to and a victim of climate change but it must not be penalised as part of any solution, the head of the World Tourism Organisation said today.
Francesco Frangialli, secretary general of the United Nations body, said tourism was an economic lifeline for many nations and simplistic moves to curb it could spell doom for millions of people.
''Tourism helps poverty alleviation, which is one of the millennium development goals, so tourism must be part of the solution,'' he told reporters on the eve of a meeting of tourism ministers in London.
It is a message he will take to a meeting of U N environment ministers on the Indonesian island of Bali next month to discuss a possible successor to the Kyoto Protocol on cutting climate-warming carbon emissions, which expires in 2012.
''People see tourism as a luxury, a leisure pursuit. They don't see it as a vital economic activity. Our goal is to make sure they see this side of it as well,'' Frangialli said.
Controversially, some 10,000 people including ministers, officials and reporters, are expected to attend the Bali meeting, giving it a major carbon footprint.
A multi-agency meeting of tourism and environment officials in the Swiss resort of Davos last month agreed a wide-ranging declaration which for the first time tied together tourism, the environment and development.
This Davos declaration, calling for concerted government, industry and consumer action, will be the message Frangialli and his colleagues from the UN environment programme and the World Meteorological Organisation will be taking to Bali.
HAPPENING NOW The latest figures from the Madrid-based UNWTO show that in the first eight months of 2007 there were 610 million international tourist arrivals worldwide -- a rise of 5.6 percent on the same period in 2006.
Frangialli said if this continued, despite economic ills and booming oil prices, the 2007 total could be around 900 million.
He also said that if expansion continued at anything like the current rate, international tourist arrivals could hit 1.1 billion by 2010 and 1.6 billion by 2020.
Although air travel contributed a low single figure percentage to global emissions of carbon gases, this rate of expansion could change that radically.
But at the same time, he said, global warming was starting to bleach corals, melt glaciers and raise sea levels -- causing problems in particular for small island states which were among the top tourist destinations.
Scientists say carbon gases from burning fossil fuels for power and transport are causing the major changes now being seen in the global climate, and emissions from aircraft are up to four times worse than at ground level.
''This is not something in the future, it is happening now,'' Frangialli said.
REUTERS PJ HT2057