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Report shows challenges facing nature-based tourism

Report shows challenges facing nature-based tourism
September 20, 2021

With COVID-19 having led to an abrupt halt in nature-based tourism activities around the world, marked by travel restrictions, lockdowns and closures of protected areas, a recently published report by the Luc Hoffmann Institute outlines the challenges facing the sector, making recommendations for future resilience and sustainability.

The Future of Nature-Based Tourism: A new report on the impacts of COVID-19 and paths to sustainability offers examples of pathways to sustainable recovery including virtual tours and creating new tourism products with lower rates for domestic visitors.

The research also emphasises the urgency of diversifying community livelihoods and conservation funding beyond the reliance on tourism including technical and financial assistance available in the form of grants, crowdsourcing and investment platforms.

The report, authored by Dr Anna Spenceley (a leading authority in sustainable and responsible tourism with a focus on biodiversity conservation and protected areas, particularly in Africa) shows that while there have been some positive impacts from the global pause in tourism - such as a decrease in overtourism at popular destination sites, allowing wildlife the space to recover - it has also seen local livelihoods, many of which depend entirely on nature-based tourism, decimated and declines in revenues that go towards conservation efforts.

It cites a European Union survey which found that 543 tourism operators working in African protected areas collectively employed 48,000 people, of whom more than half were recruited locally. On average, 65% of local staff members were on reduced wages and hours because of the pandemic, and more than half have put some (or all) of their local employees on leave without pay since February 2020. An estimated 94% of local employees would be affected by being on reduced wages, unpaid leave, being made redundant or unemployed if the crisis continues.

The report offers examples of some pathways to sustainable recovery, such as virtual tours and creating new tourism products with lower rates for domestic visitors. Technical and financial assistance are also being made available in the form of grants, crowdsourcing, and investment and facilitation platforms.

Jon Hutton, World Wildlife Fund International Global Conservation Director and former Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, explained “the halt in tourism has been devastating for so many communities and conservation efforts, but the pause has also given people time to reassess priorities.

“Systems analysis is crucial for change, and research like this highlights the institute’s work in accelerating innovation and catalysing new approaches. It shows there is hope and a path toward recovery through diversification, resilience and sustainability.”

The research also emphasises the urgency of diversifying community livelihoods and conservation funding beyond a sole reliance on tourism. Since 2019, the Luc Hoffmann Institute has been working to address this need through Beyond Tourism in Africa, an innovation challenge held in partnership with the African Leadership University’s School of Wildlife Conservation and WWF-Africa. The challenge sought innovative ideas for how communities could diversify their incomes beyond tourism revenue. 15 winners were selected, with ideas ranging from live, virtual nature classrooms to rewilding initiatives, forest carbon payment systems and more.

Looking forward, Melanie Ryan, Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, stated “assessing and understanding what actually happens when we experience shocks in our current systems is a key step to accelerating sustainable futures.

“COVID-19 has forced us all to stop and reflect on how our world fundamentally works and for whom, and to consider alternate and better pathways. This report, and its research, open a door to discussion and new perspectives, which in turn can lead to systemic change and, eventually, a world in which all life on Earth can thrive together,” said Melanie Ryan, Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute.

For over 60 years, Dr Luc Hoffmann helped catalyse new ideas and effective approaches to nature conservation, bestowing the institute with a strong lineage based on partnership and the arts of convening, connecting and incubating.

Today, the Luc Hoffmann Institute follows the principles of systems thinking, convening and co-creation to incubate and accelerate new ideas and approaches that will deliver significant gains for biodiversity

Click here to view The Future of Nature-Based Tourism: A new report on the impacts of COVID-19 and paths to sustainability report.

Main image: Bali Zoo’s Elephant Mud Fun experience.

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