Tourism and biodiversity are inexorably linked. In fact, the prosperity of tourism industry is directly dependent upon healthy ecosystems. Most tourism activities are also directly based on services provided by ecosystems. These recreational values offered by ecosystems have been recognized as one of the main cultural services that nature provides to humankind, along with spiritual, aesthetic, and educational values. Tourism related activities and services, if carried out in a sustainable manner, can have major synergies with conservation agendas. The following are some of the agendas; tourism can raise awareness and support education of locals and visitors alike on the values of biodiversity; tourism can be a tool for promoting ecological conservation by creation of fees and taxes for tourists; be directly invested in conservation projects; and create economic development opportunities as an alternative to unsustainable use of biodiversity. However, the rapid growth of tourism industry has caused increasing pressure on the environment. Such pressure indicates that giving priority to development of uncontrolled economic benefits of tourism would undermine the principles of sustainable development. This essay will therefore summarize some of the ideas that were discussed by #sttachangemakers during a tweet chat on “Tourism, Ecosystems, and Restoration”.
Integrating Ecosystem into Tourism Development.
Ecosystems provide services that are very crucial and essential for the success of tourism. Livelihood sustainability in tourism greatly depends on healthy ecosystems. #sttachangemakers discussed that there are great opportunities to model tourism in a way that may further enhance ecosystem restoration efforts especially for the most endangered ecosystems. Some of the possible ways of facilitating such integration will require inclusion of ecosystem restoration strategies in tourism policy, and promotion of best practices in supply chain for ecosystem restoration.
Managing visitor numbers is a perfect remedy to restoring and renewing damaged ecosystems especially for destinations associated with mass tourism. This is essential where mass tourism results to negative environmental impacts such as pollution, degradation, and destruction of fragile ecosystems. It is also important to monitor and control tourist’s activities on various ecosystems and this can be integrated by installation of guidelines and policies that oversee and encourage ecosystem protection and restoration.
Ecotourism is also the best tool to enrich the integration of tourism development &ecosystem restoration. Ecotourism activities have been linked to successful biodiversity and environmental protection programs since they are associated with responsible tourism at all levels. On a broader scale, ecotourism can be a driver of sustainable development in a region or even a country, if carefully conceived, well-managed and strictly controlled.
Also, tourism partnership with conservation for ecosystem benefits is important. Tourism establishments should also further adopt green energy with an aim of reducing environmental pollution. There is also a need to refocus and emphasize on Community Based Tourism modelled to protect ecosystems.
Tourists can support initiatives for ecosystem restoration. So, tourism should also tap on available opportunities for visitor education about values for ecosystem. Visitor interests in ecosystem restoration can be encouraged through innovative packaging that endows and prioritizes nature and environmental protection. On the other hand, capacity building should also be done through training and equipping tourism employees with knowledge to oversee environmental protection and restoration. This can transcend beyond staff and even target community.
Environmental stewardship In Africa’s Tourism.
Experts around the world agree that the need for stewardship has never been greater, as there exists overwhelming evidence that the environment is being irrevocably damaged by human actions. Climate change caused by increased green-house gas emissions and loss of biodiversity due to declining habitat loss are just two compelling issues.
For tourism to effectively enhance environmental protection it must rethink and realign its priorities. Africa should prioritize on regenerative approaches in tourism planning and management. Regenerative approaches ensure that natural systems design in tourism minimize impact and enhance environmental health. It is also very important to incorporate and integrate environmental measures in planning and implementation phases of tourism. Environmental protection should be therefore considered in every step of decision making for tourism development.
Africa’s tourism should focus on using tourism to be a tool for creating and promoting awareness on environmental protection. Attention needs to be drawn on creating tourism experiences that support and portray environmental protection stewardship. Management of mass tourism should also be given priority since mass tourism has proven to be the root cause of many negative environmental impacts, yet it is a mono product by default across destinations in Africa.
A disturbing fact is how the tourism industry is itself causing environmental damage through its own development in pristine areas, unsustainable consumption of resources, and contribution to climate change. This is the paradox: as an industry, tourism both damage the environment and is a victim of this damage. That is why it is critical for the industry to be proactive about environmental sustainability in tourism. The consequences of environmental neglect are dire for destinations in Africa where tourism product development draws immense benefits from environmental resources. This means that disregard for environmental sustainability in tourism may result to the industry’s downfall.
Ecosystem and tourism business operations.
In recent years, tourism trips have been along emphasizing on the importance of environmental protection. Undoubtedly, tourism activities in the areas of ecotourism can have environmental consequences either directly or indirectly. Besides the positive consequences, no doubt the negative environmental effects of tourism are also recognized like the destruction of the natural environment of the woodlands and meadow through hiking. So, the development of tourism can make both positive and negative impacts. Development and management of tourism in a way that can be compatible with the environment and not damage it, is an important factor in achieving sustainable development.
Tourism might not have done enough in terms of restoring ecosystems, but it has played some crucial roles. For instance, tourism has been able to create awareness among tourists on the value of various ecosystems. Tourism players who are already aligned to sustainable tourism principles have been participating in various initiatives geared at restoration of ecosystems for instance, tree planting, donations to environmental causes, and active advocacy on responsible tourism.
Ecotourism and nature-based tourism have been supporting conservation programs, but then direct financial contribution by these forms of tourism towards conservation is not enough to protect the ecosystems. On the contrary, tourism has done little on climate action, yet it contributes immensely to climate change.
The current move of tapping into sustainable tourism has seen many tourism businesses embrace eco-friendly products. An evident example locally in the supply chain is the move for zero plastics in travel. From the #sttachangemakers discussion it come clear that there is still a big gap when it comes to tourism contributing to ecosystem restoration, but if all tourism businesses join the sustainable tourism by practices, then this will boost achievement of goals for ecosystem restoration.
Message on actions for environmental protection as tourism restarts.
Tourism planning with considerations for the environment is important. This will allow space to raise awareness of the local environment, and possibly helping to improve the environmental quality of the area. Tourists are interested in visiting nice, clean, and pollution-free areas. So, such planning taps on opportunities to justify visitor payments for the preservation of important natural areas and wildlife, including marine environment, national and regional parks. Preservation of archeological and historical areas as tourist attractions also stands to benefit.
Application of environmental planning and integration of environmental protection measures in tourism planning process will prevent some level of environmental harm. A careful assessment of tourism projects feasibility, when done early enough, can help ascertain and often mitigate potential harm.
Although the relationship between tourism and environment seems complicated, both acknowledge mutual benefits. Nonetheless, tourism includes many activities that can have adverse effects environment. The negative impacts of tourism development may destroy environmental resources. Cooperation of such developments with the tourism industry in maintaining the environment is essential. This can be a way to raise awareness of the environmental values and can be used as a tool for financial protection of natural resources. The industry has a great potential to increase its support for the environment and spread awareness of environmental problems, especially where it puts people in closer contact with nature. This is key with forecasts that tourism in nature, will account for the bulk of the tourism market in the coming years.
Summarized by: Sheila Omondi and Nicholas Kipkorir.