2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. In keeping with this global initiative, this years World Tourism Day (held every year on 27 September) has the theme "Tourism and Biodiversity". The official World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) celebrations were held in Guangzhou, China, bringing together government representatives, biodiversity researchers and private industry representatives. Many countries have also held their own events, and the World Travel and Tourism Council used the day to call for entries for the 2011 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.
Calling on the tourism sector to generate momentum and accelerate progress towards the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, underlined the value of life on Earth to the long-term sustainability of tourism.
"Biodiversity is at risk on a global scale. Yet the very future of tourism – the millions it employs around the world and its socio-economic contribution to growth and development – depends on the protection and conservation of this biodiversity," he said.
A message from Taleb Rifai on the UNWTO website says that it is "the relationship between tourism and biodiversity and the resulting positive impacts on local livelihoods, development and poverty alleviation that must set the tone for sustainable tourism development. Safeguarding biodiversity is an urgent challenge that concerns us all – the international community, governments, companies and travellers – but it is not too late to act."
A panel discussion held at Guangzhou concluded that while the public sector must establish a supportive policy framework and favorable conditions for the sustainable development of tourism, integrating tourism in national biodiversity plans, it is the responsibility of the private sector to implement objectives and assess their performance. This is also relevant for the long-term economic success of tourism enterprises.
The importance of local community involvement in sustainable tourism development and operation was also underlined. While governments and companies must take the lead, participants argued, it is only through engaging and involving with the local community that tourism can truly be developed in a sustainable manner. The benefits of developing sustainable tourism, namely decent work and income opportunities, can provide a strong incentive for communities to protect their natural heritage. To ensure this, wealth generated from biodiversity-based tourism products must be fairly and equitably shared at the local level, increasing local participation in the tourism value chain.
Tourism, of course, has a very mixed record on biodiversity. Particularly in coastal areas, tourism development has often destroyed habitats and wildlife: directly through the clearing of natural habitat for hotels, golf courses etc, and indirectly through pollution, disturbance, and over-use of water and other resources. Even ecotourism and wildlife tourism can have negative impacts, through disturbance to wildlife and disruption of natural behaviour. Nevertheless, nature-based tourism also offers economic incentives for conservation of biodiversity, and in some places may offer the only hope for protection of habitats and of charismatic endangered species. Even 'consumptive' forms of wildlife tourism such as hunting and fishing can when properly and sustainably managed support biodiversity protection, as participants can form powerful lobbying groups and put a value on game and fish which provides incentive to maintain habitat.
Published research on the relationship between tourism and biodiversity can be searched through CABI's Environmental Impact and Leisure Tourism databases, providing examples of both the positive and negative impacts of tourism, and case studies of how tourism can be managed to promote conservation. A simple search on the Leisure Tourism Database for 'tourism and biodiversity' finds over 800 bibliographic records: for a few examples, see the reference list below.
The biodiversity implications of changes in coastal tourism due to climate change. Coombes, E. G.; Jones, A. P.; Sutherland, W. J.; Environmental Conservation, 2008, 35, 4, pp 319-330, 47 ref.
Assessing the impact of biodiversity on tourism flows: a model for tourist behaviour and its policy implications. Macagno, G.; Loureiro, M.; Nunes, P. A. L. D.; Tol, R.; Nota di Lavoro – Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM), 2009, 21.2009, pp 33 ., 31 ref. [link to PDF]
Payments for ecosystem services as a framework for community-based conservation in Northern Tanzania. Nelson, F.; Foley, C.; Foley, L. S.; Leposo, A.; Loure, E.; Peterson, D.; Peterson, M.; Peterson, T.; Sachedina, H.; Williams, A.; Conservation Biology, 2010, 24, 1, pp 78-85, 33 ref.
Fishing tourism, biodiversity protection and regional politics in the River Tornionjoki, Finland. Salmi, J.; Salmi, P.; Fisheries Management and Ecology, 2010, 17, 2, pp 192-198, 21 ref.
Ecotourism and biodiversity conservation in Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park, Zanzibar. Salum, L. A.; African Journal of Ecology, 2009, 47, s1, pp 166-170, 9 ref.
Trouble in paradise: indigenous populations, anthropological policies, and biodiversity conservation in Manu National Park, Peru. Shepard, G. H., Jr.; Rummenhoeller, K.; Ohl-Schacherer, J.; Yu, D. W.; Hawken, I. F.; Granoff, I. M. E.; Journal of Sustainable Forestry, 2010, 29, 2/4, pp 252-301, many ref.
Birds as tourism flagship species: a case study of tropical islands. Veríssimo, D.; Fraser, I.; Groombridge, J.; Bristol, R.; MacMillan, D. C.; Animal Conservation, 2009, 12, 6, pp 549-558, many ref.
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Ecotourism is an important and growing segment of the global tourism industry that is making significant positive contributions to the environmental, social, cultural and economic well-being of destinations and local communities around the world. Furthermore, ecotourism has provided an impetus to assist in greening the tourism industry on many fronts.