Tourism and biodiversity are intimately related. In fact, the prosperity of tourism industry is directly dependent upon healthy ecosystems. Most tourism activities are also directly based on the many 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 the conservation agenda:
- tourism can create economic development opportunities as an alternative to unsustainable use of biodiversity
- tourism can generate funds for conservation of the visited sites (through corporate donations, individual visitor contributions, etc)
- tourism can raise awareness and support the education of locals and visitors alike on the values of biodiversity.
The work of IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity Programme with the Tourism industry has been twofold: to integrate biodiversity into the development and operations of hotels and resorts, and to build the ecotourism business skills of conservation organisations.
Integrating biodiversity into tourism development
Integrating biodiversity considerations in planning and operational decisions for hotel and resort is important not only for the continued viability and conservation of the ecosystems, but also for the long-term financial success of the hotels and resorts. The tourism industry, including the hospitality sector, depends strongly on healthy ecosystems, because those ecosystems – and the wildlife, habitats, landscapes and natural attractions that comprise them – are often the very thing that draws tourists to the destination in the first place.
To specifically address the biodiversity risks associated with the development and operations of hotels and resorts, IUCN has developed the Biodiversity Principles for siting and design of hotels and resorts and a series of guidelines for the sustainable use of biological resources in hotels and resorts. To download these tools and read more about IUCN's work with the tourism sector, visit the Tourism section of our Resources pages.
Building the ecotourism business skills of conservation organisations
Many conservation organisations see tourism as one of the sectors with the greatest potential for linking conservation to economic development. However, as conservation organisations often have limited experience in tourism and marketing, tourism products and services can fail the market test. Therefore, it is necessary to inject some business expertise into the many projects that build conservation strategies on tourism development.
Ecotourism can be an extraordinary tool for conservation. By creating a value for an ecosystem, species or landscape, ecotourism can raise much-needed funds to protect and conserve these natural resources. Ecotourism can also be a support mechanism for poverty alleviation, providing employment and income for local people and offering them an alternative means of livelihood to those that may result in the destruction or overuse of natural resources. On a broader scale, ecotourism can be a driver of sustainable development in a region or even a country, if it is carefully conceived, well-managed and strictly controlled. However, despite its potential for positive contributions, ecotourism is not always the solution to conservation challenges. There may be some areas that are just not appropriate for ecotourism development and some businesses that just won’t work in the larger tourism market. That is why it is so important to understand the basics of developing and running a successful business, to ensure that your business idea is viable and will be profitable, allowing it to most effectively benefit the surrounding environment and communities.
IUCN’s work on integrating business skills into ecotourism operations is targeted at conservation organisations that are developing ecotourism businesses, and aims to provide them with an introduction to the business skills required to manage such businesses as market viable and effective tools for conservation.