If developed and managed properly, a sustainable tourism strategy can aid conservation efforts. A destination’s natural environment, often the catalyst for tourism development in the first place, must be preserved to sustain tourism in the long run. Part I of this article discussed the first three of Solimar’s six models that link tourism to conservation:
- Improve Tourism Operations and Guidelines
- Increase Tourism Awareness and Constituencies
- Increase Income Diversification
Here are three additional ways that tourism can assist a destination’s natural conservation efforts:
- Increase Monitoring and Research
This model supports conservation by increasing the presence of guides, visitors, and researchers in critical areas where environmental degradation occurs. Two main strategies arise:
4.1 Increase the Role of Local Residents in Monitoring and Research
Local residents often participate in conservation efforts by forming patrols or gaining employment as research assistants. Coastal residents can conduct nightly beach patrols to prevent the poaching of sea turtle eggs or illegal fishing. Tourism stakeholders can commit funding to these patrols or commission research projects with local residents as assistants. Execution of this strategy often depends on vital support from NGOs. By playing a role in monitoring and research, local residents gain awareness of conservation issues and form a deeper attachment to the local natural environment.
4.2 Increase the Role of Visitors in Monitoring and Research
‘Voluntourism’ increases in popularity every year. Tourists increasingly seek travel through which they can learn about a cause while making a positive impact on their chosen travel destination. Tourists can sign up for long-term stays at ecolodges or engage in direct conservation efforts through National Parks or private businesses offering such experiences.
- Increase Tourism-Generated Conservation Financing
Most conservation professionals agree that increased funding would help their efforts. If tourism can increase the amount of funding available to conservation-related businesses and organizations, reliance upon donations decreases and the whole operation becomes more sustainable. This model involves four strategies:
5.1 Utilize Sustainable Tourism Profits to Support Conservation Activities
This should be seen as investing in a destination’s long-term future. The natural environment often draws tourism to an area in the first place, so investing in the future of that environment enhances the likelihood of long-term sustainable tourism. Examples of profit reinvestment include increased monitoring and research, hosting ‘volontourists,’ or replacing less efficient equipment with new, more eco-friendly equipment.
5.2 Develop Travel Philanthropy Programs
Creating programs that provide a reliable way for visitors to donate can greatly aid conservation efforts. This strategy involves several steps: developing visitor appreciation of the site’s resources, increasing visitor understanding of the threats to those resources, fostering visitor understanding of efforts to mitigate those threats, and finally, presenting the visitor a reliable way to donate to those efforts.
5.3 Develop Conservation-Themed Brands and Merchandise
Many National Parks and conservation organizations sell t-shirts, mugs, hats, and other merchandise. A simple, easily identifiable logo with clear text should be used on merchandise as well as websites, publications, and news releases. The WWF and their panda logo provide a good example. Publicizing details about how merchandise sales lead to conservation can encourage sales.
5.4 Promote Mandatory or Voluntary Protected Area Entrance/User Fees
Visitors often have to pay a mandatory fee to use a protected area. Parks can sell daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, or yearly passes. Sometimes fees correspond to an activity undertaken in the park so entrance may be one price while an additional fee may apply for fishing or camping. These fees can be used to hire more guides or rangers to protect the park or to increase the availability of interpretation within the park.
- Increase Conservation Partnerships:
Increased cooperation between local residents, protected areas, NGOs, and private business can accelerate conservation efforts. When communities can share in the economic benefits of a sustainable tourism strategy, the likelihood of effective long-term partnerships increases. This model involves two main strategies:
6.1 Developing Partnerships between Protected Areas, NGOs, and Universities
Attracting researchers from NGOs or universities brings revenue to protected areas through the provision of food, lodging, and other services. The research itself builds a more thorough understanding of the natural processes taking place and can inform future conservation efforts. The Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador often hosts researchers for months at a time while bringing in large student groups for 2-3 day tours and hikes. Many of these efforts develop through a partnership with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).
6.2 Developing Partnerships between Protected Areas and Communities
Concession agreements, which allow local businesses to operate within protected areas, are becoming more widespread. This creates a financial incentive for local residents to engage in sustainable tourism practices. As business flourishes, commitment to the sustainable management of the protected area arises.
Destinations seeking sustainable solutions to conservation issues should employ the models and strategies listed above.