Giulia Carbone explains why the tourism industry needs to address ecological threats

Tourism needs a healthy and pristine environment. No other industry relies as heavily on unspoilt scenery and natural diversity to attract the crowds. When nature suffers, travel companies suffer, too. The question is how to create synergies between the tourism industry and conservation efforts, allowing both to thrive while minimizing negative impact.

For many conservation projects, ecotourism seems the perfect way to raise funds. Travellers in search of pristine natural beauty can help to finance conservation efforts while providing an alternative income for those who live in the area. This, in turn, can take some pressure off local resources.

The reality, however, is that small ecotourism businesses often fail because they lack professional expertise. One solution is to match professional travel companies with conservation projects. The companies benefit because they discover spectacular new destinations and areas teeming with wildlife. The conservation projects also win because they learn how to run a thriving small business. Members of my organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, have successfully used this strategy to boost their ecotourism ventures while protecting the environment.

Even for large-scale tour operators, hotels and travel companies, protecting the environment should be more than an afterthought. They should understand their environmental and social footprint, minimize and even offset their impact on the host environment. The challenge is getting businesses, local authorities and civil society to cooperate effectively.

The tourism industry needs to ensure that conservation strategies are in place to address ecological threats.

Read the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013

Author: Giulia Carbone is the Deputy Head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Global Business (IUCN) and Biodiversity Programme. She is in charge of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, and she coordinates a number of tourism-related projects.

Image: A White-Headerd Marsh-Tyrant bird rests on a tree in Hato Pinero, an ecotourism reserve in Venezuela REUTERS/Jorge Silva