How tourism supports conservation in developing countries

elephant-smPosted by Sheridan Samano, co-founder of Reefs to Rockies, 

According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), travelers spend more than $200 billion dollars in developing countries every year. Tourism is one of the top income-generating industries in well over 80% of all developing countries. Because of this income and employment-generating potential, govern­ments and communities have come to value and protect the resource base on which tourism depends.

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “…management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic goals can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity and life support systems.” 

Increasingly, sustainable operations and travel experiences are driven by traveler demand, particularly in developing countries.  Sustainable tourism wouldn’t be possible without the demand of the traveler. Today, travelers select destinations, operators, guides and activities because they want to support conservation in some small way.

Here are four examples of growing ways in which tourism directly supports conservation in developing countries.

Transfrontier parks maintain open migratory patterns.

Transfrontier parks have been around in Southern Africa for nearly a decade. Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, three countries that have one natural area with annual wildlife migration patterns in common, came together to establish the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a jointly protected as a conservation area. In fact, private reserves currently cover more than double the area of public reserves in South Africa. In 2015, we are eagerly watching similar programs such Big Bend National Park in the United States, Bavarian Forest National Park in Germany and the Betung Kerihun Park in Borneo.

 Local communities derive more cash value from tourism than other uses of the wildlife.

Around the world, ecotourism effectively helps local community members manage natural resources in a sustainable way by providing them the financial means to do so. In Laos, for example, the Wildlife Conservation Society Lao Programme has used wildlife-based ecotourism to ensure that tourism will directly benefit conservation, most notably the protection of the tigers in Nam Et-Phou Louey Protected Area. Comprised of an “ecosystem service agreement” between 14 villages, financial benefits derived from tourism fees go direct to the villages, who in turn proactively work to protect the local wildlife tourists travel to see.

In Namibia, the government has utilized the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation approach to protect wildlife by enlisting former poachers, perhaps the most skilled wildlife trackers on the continent, to protect instead of hunt the wildlife.

We’ll continue to see examples like this launch and thrive around the world in 2015.

Innovative “Debt-for-Nature” swap agreements fund conservation activities.

New “debt-for-nature” agreements work to relieve the debt burden of developing countries owed to the U.S. government, while generating funds in local currency to support tropical forest conservation activities. If the country is interested in funding conservation, debt-for-nature swaps provide an additional source of funds for that purpose.

Capital raised through these agreements can be applied through trust funds or foundations specifically set up to channel funding to local biodiversity conservation.

The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has been proactively establishing debt-for-nature programs to fund community-based enterprises in Belize, the Philippines, the Galápagos Islands, Thailand, and Namibia.

For profit small business development is perhaps the most poignant way tourism supports conservation.  

While there are countless examples of successful tourism businesses both directly and indirectly supporting conservation around the world, this year we’re seeing more and more success stories.

In the Philippines, new eco-lodges, dive destinations, and other tourism-related businesses are practicing improved fisheries management and protecting important coastal and marine resources.

In India, the “Green Laws” of conservation are making local people aware of how man and the environment can live symbiotically for more time to come and eco-tourism is the only way to maximize the economic environmental and social benefits of tourism. Successful examples include a number of programs in the Kerala region, jungle lodges and resorts across southern India, and The Camp RapidFire in Rishikesh.

Reefs to Rockies, is a boutique tour operator specializing in designing and guiding customized sustainable travel itineraries to the Americas and Africa.

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