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UN agency warns of both blessing and curse in biodiversity tourism

UN agency warns of both blessing and curse in biodiversity tourism

With visits to the world’s biodiversity hotspots, regions richest in species but facing extreme threats, set to account for most of a projected doubling in tourism by 2020, the United Nations today warned of both a blessing and a curse – a major danger for nature or a chance to ease the poverty of the planet’s poorest peoples.

“Tourism has huge potential for good or evil. It is in everyone’s interest, particularly the industry’s, that the economic power of 21st century tourism is harnessed for the benefit of local people and wildlife,” the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, said in launching the most comprehensive study ever focusing on the affects of tourism on biological diversity.

The report, titled “Tourism and Biodiversity: Mapping Tourism’s Global Footprint” and released by UNEP and Conservation International (CI), a US-based international non-profit corporation, notes that tourism generates 11 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), employs 200 million people and transports nearly 700 million international travellers per year – a figure expected to double by 2020.

The study, which provides guidelines for governments, businesses, donors and local communities for supporting sustainable development, adds that with nature and adventure travel being among tourism’s fastest-growing segments, the most fragile biodiversity areas are where most expansion will likely take place. While tourism can provide opportunities for conserving nature, when developed improperly it can be a major threat to conservation, it states.

The report also notes that tourism is a principal export of the 49 least-developed countries and number one for 37 of them and illustrates how, when guided by the principles of ecotourism – environmental sustainability, protection of nature, and supporting the well being of local peoples – it can provide important economic alternatives for local communities.

“Tourism relies on stable and healthy communities and environments. It cannot ruin the very wildlife and landscapes the visitors pay to see and then move on,” Mr. Toepfer said. “Fortunately, there are many examples where tourism has balanced the needs of the industry with the needs of wildlife and people. We need to encourage and extend these across the globe so that they do not become islands of good practice in a sea of environmental decline.”