This article is published as part of a year-long series Ecotourism Then and Now, commemorating the 20th anniversary of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) through a joint effort by TIES and Megan Epler Wood, author of this article and founder of TIES.
Follow this link to read Part 1 – Ecotourism 20 Years Ago
Part 2 – Ecotourism Now
Twenty years later in 2010, the funding crisis for protected areas remains. The hard work of getting funding mechanisms into place via government policies has advanced slowly.
Recent news is not encouraging. Parks and protected areas around the world face a growing crisis to cover the costs of their operation and management. It is estimated that at least $ 12-13 billion will be needed in the next decade to mange protected areas in developing countries according to IUCN World Congress documents in 2005. Parks have long been one of the main attractions for the tourism industry, and this trend continues to increase. But most decision makers remain woefully unaware of the economic importance of parks.
IUCN’s 2008 World Congress focused on creating market viable ecotourism products. In this exact same time period, the international adventure and related ecotourism industry was having one of its greatest boom periods in history. Businesses were bringing record numbers of visitors to parks, and yes entrance fees were being raised around the world. But few efforts to finance yawning budget gaps with tourism were implemented on the scale required. While park budgets reach crisis proportions, the tourism marketplace is kept at arm’s length by park administrators.
Nevertheless, real progress has been made. The national parks of South Africa launched a concession program that has been economically, socially, and environmentally successful, according to Gigu Varghese, the head of business development for South African National parks (SANParks) as reported in the book Responsible Tourism. SANParks manages over 4 million hectares of pristine wilderness in a system of 23 national parks. After the democratization of South Africa in 1994, the government became answerable to a much larger population and their economic needs.
In 1998, SANParks was told to prepare to become less dependent on government funding. In 2000, private operators were given the legal right to operate in 11 sites with 20-year contracts, a public-private approach known as concessions, which yielded over $14 million to SANParks in 5 years. Stringent environmental standards were applied and local employment was generated, all carefully monitored and scored to ensure that black populations were a prime beneficiary of the effort.
Concessions are a government contracting instrument with a solid history. The first concession arrangements for parks in the world were authorized by the US National Park Service after its founding in 1916. But only recently has it been fully demonstrated that this type of contract can also include environmental and social goals. According to IUCN author, Derek de La Harpe, in his chapter for the IUCN book Parks in Transition; park agencies, often with strong qualifications in biological issues, frequently lack the managerial, financial and commercial skills, resources and mindsets needed to oversee businesses. Most park agencies still resist working with the private sector.
Oliver Hillel, of the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity , states, “The vast majority of national park agencies still are unprepared to partner productively with the tourism industry. Building the capacity of park agencies and local authorities to engage with tourism industry representatives could easily result in doubling current economic benefits from tourism to protected areas.”
Tourism concessions worth billions of dollars in new revenues for conservation could help to bridge the funding gap for parks around the world. Businesses are willing to pay governments for the opportunity to operate in parks and protected areas; and concession contracts that require strong environmental and social standards are entirely feasible.
The time has come to truly finance parks through tourism concessions. Hard work to create the legal mechanisms and management capacity is required, but the vision is clear. After 20 years, it appears that tourism is still the prime candidate to help pay for parks around the world.
More about the Author
Megan Epler Wood founded The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, the oldest and largest non-profit organization in the world dedicated to making ecotourism a tool for sustainable tourism development worldwide. She was its President & CEO from 1991-2002. Since 2003, Megan’s firm EplerWood International has devoted itself to aiding some of the poorest countries in the world with sustainable tourism development, including the nations of Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil, and Honduras.
Her published works includes; Ecotourism: Principles, Practices and Policies for Sustainability for UNEP in 2002. She has lectured at Columbia Business School, Harvard University, Wellesley, Duke University, University of Vermont, and The George Washington University. She was named a Senior Fellow at the Institute at the Golden Gate in 2010 where she is developing next generation thinking on the development of tourism as a sustainable economic development tool in collaboration with leading universities, NGOs, and business professionals.
This article was first published 4th of March 2010 at Your Travel Choice Blog .
Your Travel Choice Blog is an interactive online communication platform established by TIES, as part of their mission to promote ecotourism, which is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (TIES, 1990) by:
• Creating an international network of individuals, institutions and the tourism industry;
• Educating tourists and tourism professionals; and
• Influencing the tourism industry, public institutions and donors to integrate the principles of ecotourism into their operations and policies.
The article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.