Ecotourism grows more than 20% annually, three times faster than overall tourism industry – FAO

The emergence of ecotourism is said to be growing at a faster pace than the overall tourism sector, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

According to FAO, ecotourism is one of the fastest growing segments of tourism worldwide, growing at a pace of more than 20% annually – two or three times faster than the tourism industry overall.

Research conducted by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) backed by FAO, shows that the benefits of ecotourism flowing to local businesses are dramatically higher than those from mass tourism, providing an incentive to local communities to take care of their environment.

The CPF, which consists of 14 international organizations and secretariats, including FAO, found that standard all-inclusive package tours typically deliver just 20% of revenue to local companies, while the rest is captured by airlines, hotels and large tour companies and that “local ecotourism operations, however, can return as much as 95% of earnings into the local economy”.

The CPF also noted that ecotourism can motivate local communities to maintain and protect forests and wildlife as they see their income directly linked to the preservation of their environment.

According to CPF, the increasing demand for ecotourism can play a vital role in saving endangered forests.

A forestry officer in wildlife and protected area management at FAO, Edgar Kaeslin said in a statement “Ecotourism has a far greater potential for contributing to income and livelihoods in poor rural communities than what is realized.”

However, CPF warned that failure to limit tourists can permanently damage fragile ecosystems if it grows too quickly and its expansion is mismanaged.

The FAO also believes that the rapid growth can have negative effects, as there is the risk that powerful players in the travel industry may seek to dominate and squeeze out smaller local operators, resulting in the disruption of local economies and ecosystems.

To avoid this, CPF noted that training for local people is essential to ensure they can compete successfully for desirable ecotourism jobs.

Ecotourism is said to be popular in East Africa, especially Kenya.

By Ekow Quandzie

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