The tourism industry can contribute to conservation through:
- Direct financial contributions
Tourism can contribute directly to the conservation of sensitive areas and habitat. Revenue from park-entrance fees and similar sources can be allocated specifically to pay for the protection and management of environmentally sensitive areas. Special fees for park operations or conservation activities can be collected from tourists or tour operators.
The tour operator Discovery Initiatives, which is a member of the Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development, makes an annual financial contribution to the Orangutan Foundation of some US$ 45,000. The money is earned from only 5 tour groups of 10 people each visiting the Tanjing Putting National Park in Central Kalimantan. The park is under huge pressures from deforestation and river pollution from unrestricted gold mining. This money directly funds park staff and rangers, rehabilitation efforts for young orangutans, and the care center. It provides almost the only economic support for saving this park, where the park fees are officially only the equivalent of 12 pence a day.
- Contributions to government revenues
Some governments collect money in more far-reaching and indirect ways that are not linked to specific parks or conservation areas. User fees, income taxes, taxes on sales or rental of recreation equipment, and license fees for activities such as hunting and fishing can provide governments with the funds needed to manage natural resources. Such funds can be used for overall conservation programs and activities, such as park ranger salaries and park maintenance.
The Seychelles in the Indian Ocean is introducing a US$ 90 tax on travelers entering the Seychelles. Revenue will be used to preserve the environment and improve tourism facilities. (UNEP, report to the CSD, 1999)
In West Virginia (US) a whitewater rafting tax is collected from everyone who participates in a commercial rafting trip. The fee goes toward studying the environmental impacts of rafting. In addition, the rafting companies participate in several river cleanup days each year. (EPA)
In Belize, a US$ 3.75 departure tax goes directly to the Protected Area Conservation Trust, a Belizean fund dedicated to the conservation of the barrier reef and rainforest. (The International Ecotourism Society)
For Costa Rica, for example, tourism represents 72% of national monetary reserves, generates 140,000 jobs and produces 8.4% of the gross domestic product. The country has 25% of its territory classified under some category of conservation management. In 1999, protected areas welcomed 866,083 national and foreign tourists, who generated about US$ 2.5 million in admission fees and payment of services.
Improved environmental management and planning
Sound environmental management of tourism facilities and especially hotels can increase the benefits to natural areas. But this requires careful planning for controlled development, based on analysis of the environmental resources of the area. Planning helps to make choices between conflicting uses, or to find ways to make them compatible. By planning early for tourism development, damaging and expensive mistakes can be prevented, avoiding the gradual deterioration of environmental assets significant to tourism.
Cleaner production techniques can be important tools for planning and operating tourism facilities in a way that minimizes their environmental impacts. For example, green building (using energy-efficient and non-polluting construction materials, sewage systems and energy sources) is an increasingly important way for the tourism industry to decrease its impact on the environment. And because waste treatment and disposal are often major, long-term environmental problems in the tourism industry, pollution prevention and waste minimization techniques are especially important for the tourism industry. A guide to sources of information on cleaner production (free) is available here.
Environmental awareness raising
Tourism has the potential to increase public appreciation of the environment and to spread awareness of environmental problems when it brings people into closer contact with nature and the environment. This confrontation may heighten awareness of the value of nature and lead to environmentally conscious behavior and activities to preserve the environment. For instance, Honduran schoolchildren from the capital city of Tegucigalpa are routinely taken to visit La Tigra cloud forest visitor center, funded in part by eco-tourist dollars, to learn about the intricacies of the rainforest.
If it is to be sustainable in the long run, tourism must incorporate the principles and practices of sustainable consumption. Sustainable consumption includes building consumer demand for products that have been made using cleaner production techniques, and for services - including tourism services - that are provided in a way that minimizes environmental impacts. The tourism industry can play a key role in providing environmental information and raising awareness among tourists of the environmental consequences of their actions. Tourists and tourism-related businesses consume an enormous quantity of goods and services; moving them toward using those that are produced and provided in an environmentally sustainable way, from cradle to grave, could have an enormous positive impact on the planet's environment.
Protection and preservation
Tourism can significantly contribute to environmental protection, conservation and restoration of biological diversity and sustainable use of natural resources. Because of their attractiveness, pristine sites and natural areas are identified as valuable and the need to keep the attraction alive can lead to creation of national parks and wildlife parks.
In Hawaii, new laws and regulations have been enacted to preserve the Hawaiian rainforest and to protect native species. The coral reefs around the islands and the marine life that depend on them for survival are also protected. Hawaii now has become an international center for research on ecological systems - and the promotion and preservation of the islands' tourism industry was the main motivation for these actions. (Source: Mundus)
Grupo Punta Cana, a resort in the Dominican Republic, offers an example of how luxury tourism development and conservation can be combined. The high-end resort was established with the goal of catering to luxury-class tourists while respecting the natural habitat of Punta Cana. The developers have set aside 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of land as a nature reserve and native fruit tree garden. The Punta Cana Nature Reserve includes 11 fresh water springs surrounded by a subtropical forest where many species of unusual Caribbean flora and fauna live in their natural state. Guests can explore a "nature path" leading from the beach through mangroves, lagoons of fresh water springs and dozens of species of Caribbean bird and plant life. The Punta Cana Ecological Foundation has begun reforesting some parts of the reserve that had been stripped of their native mahogany and other trees in the past. Other environmentally protective policies have been put into effect at the resort, such as programs to protect the offshore barrier reefs and the recycling of wastewater for use in irrigating the grounds. The fairways of the resort's new golf course were planted with a hybrid grass that can be irrigated with sea water The grass also requires less than half the usual amounts of fertilizer and pesticides. The resort has also established a biodiversity laboratory run by Cornell University.
Tourism has had a positive effect on wildlife preservation and protection efforts, notably in Africa but also in South America, Asia, Australia, and the South Pacific. Numerous animal and plant species have already become extinct or may become extinct soon. Many countries have therefore established wildlife reserves and enacted strict laws protecting the animals that draw nature-loving tourists. As a result of these measures, several endangered species have begun to thrive again.
In the Great Lakes region of Africa, mountain gorillas, one of the world's most endangered great apes, play a critical ecological, economic and political role. Their habitat lies on the borders of northwestern Rwanda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and southwestern Uganda. Despite 10 years of political crisis and civil war in the region, the need for revenue from ape-related tourism has led all sides in the conflict to cooperate in protecting the apes and their habitat.
Establishment of a gorilla tracking permit, which costs US$ 250 plus park fees, means that just three habituated gorilla groups of about 38 individuals in total can generate over US$ 3 million in revenue per year, making each individual worth nearly US$ 90,000 a year to Uganda. Tourism funds have contributed to development at the local, national and regional level. The presence of such a valuable tourism revenue source in the fragile afromontane forests ensures that these critical habitats are protected, thus fulfilling their valuable ecological function including local climate regulation, water catchment,and natural resources for local communities.
Source: UNEP Great Apes Survival Project and Discovery Initiatives
Tourism can provide an alternative to development scenarios that may have greater environmental impacts. The Eco-escuela de Español, a Spanish language school created in 1996 as part of a Conservation International project in the Guatemalan village of San Andres, is an example. The community-owned school, located in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, combines individual language courses with home stay opportunities and community-led eco-tours. It receives around 1,800 tourists yearly, mostly from the US and Europe, and employs almost 100 residents, of whom around 60% were previously engaged in mostly illegal timber extraction, hunting and milpas, or slash-and-burn agriculture. Careful monitoring in 2000 has shown that, among the families benefiting from the business, the majority has significantly reduced hunting practices, and the number and extension of "slash-and-burn" agricultural plots. Furthermore, as most families in the village benefit directly or indirectly from the school, community-managed private reserves have been established, and social pressure against hunting has increased.
Awareness raising and alternative employment: the orangutan viewing centre at Bohorok, Indonesia
Observing wild and semi-wild orangutans in their natural habitat is a significant environmental education opportunity for large numbers of domestic visitors. To enhance this education experience, the existing station at Bohorok, North Sumatra is to be transformed from a rehabilitation center into an orangutan viewing center, thus offering another, crucial contribution to the sustainable conservation of the rainforest ecosystem. By developing ecotourism for orangutan viewing under the new project, all visitors will gain a rewarding personal experience from orangutans, wildlife and the rainforest ecosystem in general. This will increase their awareness of the importance of rainforest conservation. Moreover, tourism will continue to provide a major source of income for the local population, thus promoting sustainable forest utilization as a genuine alternative to timber exploitation and the poaching and trade of wildlife.
Source: Sumatran orangutan conservation programme
Regulatory measures help offset negative impacts; for instance, controls on the number of tourist activities and movement of visitors within protected areas can limit impacts on the ecosystem and help maintain the integrity and vitality of the site. Such limits can also reduce the negative impacts on resources.
Limits should be established after an in-depth analysis of the maximum sustainable visitor capacity. This strategy is being used in the Galapagos Islands, where the number of ships allowed to cruise this remote archipelago is limited, and only designated islands can be visited, ensuring visitors have little impact on the sensitive environment and animal habitats.