importance of sustainable tourism recognised in IUCN

For a couple of years or so now I (Ronda) have been part of the Biodiversity Working Group within the TAPAS Group (Tourism And Protected AreaS), which in turn is within WCPA (World Commission on Protected Areas), which forms part of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). It often means setting my alarm for 1.00am or 3.00am to join conversations, but they are always interesting, and we hope useful!

Many of the groups within IUCN have relevance to sustainable tourism, but there has been no over-lying coordinating theme of sustainable tourism to connect these within the organisation. This gap was noticeable at the World Parks Congress in Sydney in 2014, which was attended by over 10,000 delegates from across the world. Isabelle Wolf (Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW) and myself (as chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia) ran an official Parallel Event, Wildlife tourism and conservation of biodiversity in parks, in Sydney just prior to the Congress, during which we had some invigorating discussions, reported on here.

The chair of the TAPAS Group, Dr Anna Spencely, to ask if she could join our workshop to present a kind of road-map of where to find the various tourism-related presentations and displays within the week-long congress, and of course we agreed with some enthusiasm.

The recent IUCN Congress held in Marseilles in September 2021 presented a valuable opportunity to ask IUCN to take sustainable tourism more seriously as a potential force for both conservation and local communities, as nature-based tourism (including wildlife tourism, ecotourism, geotourism etc.) brings many people into natural habitats, both within Protected Areas and elsewhere, and has the potential to significantly assist biodiversity conservation but unfortunately also the potential for negative impact. I had previously co-authored reports on both the negative and the positive impacts of wildlife tourism on wildlife as well as organising conferences for Wildlife Tourism Australia on balancing the needs of wildlife and people and whether wildlife tourism can be a force for biodiversity and local economies , so was keen to see the motion accepted.

Before the motion could be officially put to the Congress, we had to find a primary sponsor and at least ten co-sponsors (all of which had to be financial members of IUCN). We had little trouble finding co-sponsors. The primary sponsorship proved more of a challenge. Along with WTA Member Angus Robinson (of Geotourism Australia) we approached the New South Wales Department for Environment, Energy and Science, as they are members of IUCN, and the venue for the last World Parks Congress (which only happens once a decade) being Sydney seemed to make it relevant. However we were by now getting very close to the deadline for submitting the motion, and another primary sponsor was found just in time, while the Department (who had shown some definite interest) was still discussing it.

The motion itself reads:

MOTION 130: Strengthening sustainable tourism’s role in biodiversity conservation and community resilience

The IUCN World Conservation Congress, at its session in Marseille, France:

1. CALLS on the Director General to commit dedicated attention for nature-based tourism by:

a. including Sustainable Tourism as a topic; and

b. integrating nature-based tourism events and activities into future Congresses and IUCN conferences;

2. CALLS on the Commissions to consider creating an inter-commission working group focused on sustainable tourism’s role in biodiversity conservation and community resilience;

3. URGES the WCPA COVID Task Force, in collaboration with other Specialist Groups and Task Forces, to strengthen its Call to Action for Rescue, Recovery and Rebuilding by:

a. producing memoranda for equitable benefit-sharing programmes and emergency strategies for communities and protected areas reliant on nature-based tourism; and

b. developing resources to support local, equal-access outdoor recreation and wildlife tourism programmes in developing countries to increase opportunities for natural heritage experiences that improve health, well-being and conservation values; and

4. CALLS ON Members and Affiliates to:

a. support development of diversified sustainable livelihood activities, skill-training programmes and alternative protein-sourcing markets in tourism-dependent communities to bolster community resilience against current and future adverse events;

b. establish enterprise-based partnerships to incorporate conservation and biodiversity monitoring across the tourism supply chain; and

c. establish more sustainable financing campaigns, including endowment funds, to support key biodiversity assets during tourism industry recessions.

You can read the preamble and other details of the motion here.

The motion was submitted, and passed with over 99% in favour.

Well done to all who put so much work into this!

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