Defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local people, and involves interpretation and education,” ecotourism aspires to be a form of nature-based travel that helps people and nature. Today, the fastest growing sector of the largest global industry, ecotourism development is used as a tool for countless conservation efforts in public and private protected areas around the world. “Ideally,” says Anna Spenceley, Chair of IUCN’s Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group, “ecotourism should be the most sustainable form of nature-based tourism. In protected areas, and other areas of high biodiversity, this form of travel should inspire visitors, conserve nature and culture, and benefit local people equitably.”
However, these tourism operations often create complex conservation challenges. Despite the alleged role ecotourism has in sustainable development, poverty eradication, and biodiversity protection, there is growing concern that ecotourism activities are failing to protect communities and natural areas due to commercial greenwashing and inadequate management, monitoring, and resources. “Done poorly,” remarks Peter Cochrane, IUCN Regional Councilor for Oceania, “it can be degrading in every sense of the word. So high standards of performance and behaviour are essential, not only to protect the environment but also to communicate and demonstrate to visitors, local communities and regulators that ecotourism is a mature, responsible and valued part of every economy.”
Tourist taking photos in the forest during a tour of Cousin Island Special Reserve
Welcoming the resolution after it passed with overwhelming support, Mr. Cochrane is “delighted that IUCN will be collaborating on the development and adoption of high standards and associated certification to ensure that ecotourism operations and operators deliver what they promise, with positive impact.” Through this initiative, together, IUCN Commissions, Members, and the Tourism and Protected Area Specialist Group will help the travel industry develop and manage ecotourism in a more responsible way. Seeing its effects first hand, Andrea Athanas, Program Manager for the African Wildlife Foundation agrees, when done responsibly “eco-tourism...is a positive ally for conservation.” By building global partnerships and synthesizing data and perspectives from the tourism industry, natural and social scientists, and economists, IUCN will play a large role in improving and promoting new standards to reverse the negative impacts of ecotourism across the planet.
For more information:
Read the full motion adopted at the IUCN Congress here: https://portals.iucn.org/congress/motion/065
And visit the IUCN WCPA Website on tourism: https://www.iucn.org/protected-areas/world-commission-protected-areas/wcpa/what-we-do/tourism-tapas
Note to editors:
IUCN has over 1,300 Members, including 217 state and government agencies, 1, 066 NGOs and networks of over 16,000 experts worldwide from more than 160 countries. The IUCN World Conservation Congress meets once every four years to debate and adopt resolutions and recommendations on important conservation issues. These decisions guide IUCN’s policy and work programme, as well as influence many organisations around the world.
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