Local people should be involved in safeguarding biodiversity in tourist hotspots, the UN recommends.
A manual issued this month (3 July) by the UN Environment Programme says local management of wildlife and nature is the best way to protect sensitive, biodiversity-rich areas from tourism. It calls for local people to be involved in monitoring biodiversity impact, as they are often the first to know if tourism harms wildlife.
The manual also urges governments and tourism companies to ask for local people’s consent before opening tourist sites.
Preparing locally tailored, evidence-based plans with governance and monitoring objectives can help tourism and biodiversity exist in harmony, it says.
The manual says each tourism site needs an individual protection plan to achieve optimum local involvement.
“How you encourage stakeholders to use this guide and develop a sustainable project depends on each specific site,” says Peter Debrine, the programme specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean at UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). “There is no one-size-fits-all approach that’s going to work.”
Kristin Lamoureux, the director of the International Institute of Tourism Studies at The George Washington University in the United States, says that focusing on influential groups can greatly improve the chances of tourism sites being managed sustainably. For example, Lamoureux has involved religious groups in tourism in Myanmar.
“Getting the Buddhist monks engaged in this discussion was crucial, because they can go a lot further than we can on advising people on what to do,” she says.
Tourism in protected areas generates around US$600 billion a year. Involving local people can ensure more of this money stays in the country, the manual says.
Obtaining basic information about the biodiversity of a tourism destination also helps safeguard long-term tourism revenues, says the manual. This data can be used to track changes and provide an early warning if tourism is harming wildlife, it says.
José Koechlin, founder of tourism company Inkaterra and a contributor to the document, uses baseline data to monitor how his firm’s activities affect biodiversity hotspots, such as the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu and the Madre de Dios River in the Peruvian Amazon. He says the manual can help countries see their biodiversity as an asset, and help them protect it.
“As with any company, your value is in your inventory,” he says. “In the case of tourism, you want to measure the intrinsic value of the region you’re conserving. It’s your capital.”