Global Tourism Slump Offers a Chance to Prioritize Nature

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a slump on global tourism, especially to those places that are marine biology hotspots. However, as people (and their trash) have stayed home, tourism destinations like Thailand have seen the benefit that this can have on nature.

As the Nikkei Asian Review reported, in Thailand, there have been numerous accounts that elephants have emerged from the jungle, while sharks, otters and herds of dugong — not seen locally for decades — have made bold appearances on the seashore. Rare leatherback turtles have laid eggs for the first time in years on several beaches on Koh Samui. Off Koh Phangan, local fishermen filmed pink dolphins around their boat.

Tourism has consistently damaged Thailand’s ecosystems, and activists argue that the current pandemic should be used to rethink the industry to prioritize quality over quantity and the protection of nature and resources.

Why This Matters: As the BBC recently reported, debt forgiveness via conservation was the key to saving the waters of Seychelles, which attract divers and eco-tourists from around the world and provide the backbone of the local economy. The same model could also be replicated elsewhere.

Ecotourism hotspots can only maintain their status if ecosystems are protected into perpetuity. Protecting nature in this way is also key to supporting jobs economic development around the world. In addition, as we rethink what ecotourism should look like in the future we should make it part of the pathway to protecting 30% of nature by 2030. Tourism is an important funding source for conservation but we can work to ensure that it functions to protect instead of exploit.

Key Lessons: Failure to transition business models to address nature is risky business. Even here in the United States, more state and local governments are beginning to understand that their economies cannot thrive without nature and they must work to protect it.

In Arizona, the state’s Office of Tourism announced a partnership with Leave No Trace, a nonprofit group readying to inform residents and visitors of multiple ways they can better explore and conserve the Grand Canyon State. Additionally, the recent full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund will help ensure that national parks receive the funding they need to manage public lands, provide a safe experience for visitors, and maintain the thousands of jobs supported by public lands.

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