Can Ecotourism Conserve the World’s National Parks?

Tourism is often seen as a double-edged sword, with visitors flocking into fragile areas. A new study explains how revenue from ecotourism could fund conservation.

National parks are huge draws for travellers, many of whom seek remote or off-the- beaten-track experiences in pristine environments. Academics have developed a mathematical model to work out the trade-off between paid tourism activities and the conservation of wildlife.

As part of the study in an Austrian national park, three factors were measured concerning a rare bird population. Visitor numbers were limited, habitats conserved and buffer zones expanded. The study found that where conservation takes priority over tourism with visitor numbers reduced, higher quality tourism occurs with fewer visitors willing to pay more for an improved experience.

A popular place where this is already in place is gorilla watching in Uganda or Rwanda – in both countries during high season gorilla-trekking permits cost $500, with only an hour in the jungle.

So the question is: would you be happy to pay more for a more exclusive experience?

Tony Charters is Convener of the Global Eco Asia Pacific Tourism Conference. He says: “There is no question that ecotourism can contribute to conservation, we just need to bring sophistication into our management. They are complementary activities not mutually exclusive.”

He adds: “A fourth management tool is the application of high quality and sensitive infrastructure or technology to minimise environmental damage and facilitate visitation. In developing economies, technology and expensive infrastructure can often be substituted with an increased presence of trained rangers and guides.”

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