WASHINGTON -- Discussions of tourism development frequently revolve
around issues like transportation infrastructure or employment.
But a report by Conservation International and the U.N.
Environment Program broadens the discourse to include
The report, "Tourism and Biodiversity: Mapping Tourism's Global
Footprint," was released at a tourism conference recently in
Durban, South Africa.
As described in the report, biodiversity refers to "biological
products and process" that are "essential to human development."
According to the report, "The relationship between tourism and
biodiversity is not always positive." Biodiversity can be disrupted
by such factors as uncontrolled land development, pollution and the
unsustainable harvesting of natural resources -- all items
sometimes associated with tourism.
The report cited the popular resort community of Cancun, Mexico,
as an example of a "poorly planned, large-scale development."
Before it was developed as a tourism resort in the 1970s, "only 12
families lived on the barrier island of Cancun," according to the
report. Today, Cancun welcomes nearly 3 million visitors a
The report noted that while it can be argued in Cancun's defense
that "it is better to concentrate tourism development into a
relatively small area," the destination nevertheless has been
"unsuccessful" at containing tourism-related sprawl and its
negative side effects.
For instance, shantytowns have sprung up in Cancun because "no
provisions were made to house low-income immigrants who now work
and live in the area."
Cancun is one example of what the report calls biodiversity "hot
spots," or "priority areas for urgent conservation action on a
Others are in Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, the Dominican Republic,
India, Indonesia, Macao, Malaysia, Morocco, South Africa, Thailand
and Vietnam. At the same time, many people living in these hot
spots earn less than one U.S. dollar a day.
The report also noted that biodiversity hot spots are not
limited to developing countries, as the Mediterranean, the
California coast and the Florida Keys also are all considered part
of the category.
Balancing tourism and biodiversity is expected to become
increasingly challenging, given the fact that tourism generates 11%
of the global gross domestic product, employs 200 million people
and transports some 700 million international travelers each year,
the report said.
Costas Christ, senior director for ecotourism at Conservation
International and one of the authors of the report, suggested one
solution: "By linking tourism development with biodiversity
conservation and the well-being of local communities, we can
develop strategies that both conserve Earth's most endangered
ecosystems and help make significant contribution to alleviating
To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].