Tourism and conservation

Posted: 4 June 2008

Tourism can both aid conservation and protect the rain forests, coastlines, mountains, marine life and endangered species, but it can also contribute to excluding people from designated protected areas.


Birdwatchers, Lake Natron in Rift Valley, Tanzania© Marc Schlossman/Panos Pictures
Birdwatchers, Lake Natron in Rift Valley, Tanzania© Marc Schlossman/Panos Pictures
Birdwatchers, Lake Natron in Rift Valley, Tanzania© Marc Schlossman/Panos Pictures
  • Revenue generated by diving, snorkeling and coral viewing has been estimated at 10-20 times higher than income from fishing in reef areas. Tourism to Australia's Barrier Reef is estimated to be worth over US$1.67 billion a year. In the Maldives, divers spend US$2.3 million a year on shark dives - estimated at 100 times more than the export value of the shark meat.



  • A study In South Africa found that net income from wildlife tourism was almost 11 times more than from cattle ranching and job generation was 15 times greater (Honey, Martha; 2008; Ecotourism Sustainable Development-Who Owns Paradise?).



  • In Kenya, it is estimated that one lion is worth $ 7,000 per year in income from tourism and an elephant herd is valued at $610,000 annually. A study in Iceland, found that the economic value of whale watching worldwide is 1 Billion dollars, and this is much more than any financial gain accruing from hunting if Iceland was to resume commercial whaling (Honey, Martha; 2008; Ecotourism Sustainable Development-Who Owns Paradise).



  • Since 1998, UK tour operator Discovery Initiatives has contributed over US$50,000 per year to Tanjing Puting National Park in Kalimantan, through a partnership with the Orangutan Foundation. This money was raised from only five tours a year, yet is equivalent to the income from 1.25 million visitors paying the park entry fee of 12 cents.


Conservation areas

In 2003, the Fifth World Park Congress was held in Durban and it was announced that there were over a 100,000 protected areas encompassing 17 million square kilometres and representing 11.5 per cent of the earth's total land surface (Honey, Martha; 2008; Ecotourism Sustainable Development-Who Owns Paradise).

  • Income from tourism in Kruger National Park exceeds the cost of managing the park and supports 3,000 local jobs.
  • The Guadalupe Island Conservation Fund was established in 2006 to protect the endangered shark population of Guadalupe in Mexican waters and to channel money from growing white shark tourism in local conservation related projects on the island. Estimates range between a 70-90 per cent decline of the global population size of sharks.


Local communities

Many analysts now argue that if tourism is to contribute successfully to conservation, it must also benefit local communities, giving them a stake in the conservation process." Ecotourism holds that national parks and other conservation areas will survive only if, as Costa Rican based ecologist Daniel Janzen puts it, there are happy people around the perimeters " (Honey, Martha; 2008; Ecotourism Sustainable Development-Who Owns Paradise).


  • Friends of Conservation are carrying out various activities in the Maasai Mara region in Kenya. Through the community centre at Talek, they work with women's groups to develop skills in beekeeping, medicinal plants and alternative fuels. The honey produced is sold to lodges on the reserve and nearby towns. They have also instigated an 'arts and crafts 'project in the ecotourism lodge near the centre at Talek which helps Maasai women, design, produce and market local crafts. FOC is also aiming to educate tourists and tour operators to respect Kenya's fragile ecosystem and promote their role in wildlife conservation.



  • The Snow Leopard Conservancy which also offers treks to see leopards in the wild, believes that snow leopards are best protected and the biodiversity of Central Asia's mountains best preserved through conservation efforts that grow from communities living with these cats. Their Himalayan Homestay programme which fetched them the 2005 Global vision Award for community outreach puts tourists in villagers' homes, thus delivering funds to the communities and with this income, the villagers are more motivated towards conservation actions



  • Eastern lowland gorillas in Africa weighing almost 500 pounds are the largest living primates today but the loss of their rainforest habitat due to farming and mining is threatening their existence apart from reduction in numbers due to poaching. They now number only between 5,000 and 10,000, down from a prewar estimate of 17,000. However organisations like Conservation International and the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund International are helping conservation through the involvement of Congolese communities who according to them are the real 'hope" in saving these animals. Community initiated reserves are creating a vast new wildlife corridor between two national parks - Maiko and Kahuzi-Beiga - so the gorillas can move safely through the landscape.



  • Rainforest Expeditions operates three ecotourism lodge in the Peruvian Amazon and one of its ventures, the Posada Amazonas Lodge in Tambopata is partially owned and operated by the local community. In addition to getting wages as tour guides and lodge staff, local people earn income from the sale of handicrafts to tourists, agricultural produce to kitchens and also a percentage of the revenue. In 2007, the dividends distributed to the community were approximately $135,000 (See and Conservation International for more details).



  • The Lapa Rios Ecolodge, a recipient of numerous awards and a fixture in the best hotels of the world list, offers various guided tours and by choosing a knowledgeable local guide guests can give the community economic support, also playing a major role in preserving rainforests. Visitors have been so involved with the local communities that they helped to fund and construct a school for the local community.


Consumer demand

Surveys and polls indicate that many holidaymakers are willing to pay more for more sustainable travel:

  • In the US, more than half of all adults say they would be more likely to select an airline, rental car or hotel that uses more environmentally friendly products and processes and 58.5 million Americans say they would pay more to use travel companies that strive to preserve and protect the environment (



  • A Responsible Travel telephone survey of British adults in 2004 showed 80 per cent more likely to book a holiday with a company if they had a written policy to guarantee good working conditions for staff, protect the environment and support local charity destinations (



  • The TNS travel and Tourism study which surveyed 6000 people in parts of Europe and North America, in October 2007 found that only 7 per cent of the British had made payments towards minimizing the impact of their travel as against 12 per cent Spaniards (


Greener tourism

There is huge potential for hotels and resorts to cut energy and water use. For instance:

  • The volcano safari's ecolodges near three mountain gorilla parks in Africa use eco-san dry toilets, bush showers to minimize water shortage and lighting generated by solar panel ( ).



  • The 3 Rivers Ecolodge and Sustainable Living Centre in Dominica, keeps in mind the environment in every aspect and is firmly committed to sustainability by using solar power for heating, recycled water, composting all kitchen and garden waste to grow organic food, shopping locally, recycling and using biodegradable products ( ).



  • The Bedruthan Steps Hotel in Cornwall, UK became the first in that county to receive a gold award from the Green Tourism Business scheme (GTBS), the largest accreditation body of tourism in Europe. New energy saving measures at the hotel include energy efficient light bulbs, a solar heated swimming pool and automatic switch off lights and water in the hotel rooms.



  • The International Tourism Partnership, an organisation of companies from the travel and tourism industry works to improve environmental performance, develop practical environmental manuals and guidelines and encourage the observance of the highest standards of environment management in hotels (


This section was compiled by Junie Wadhawan from Tourism Concern.