Although only covering 6% of our planet, rainforests contain over half of the world’s species.1 If rainforest destruction continues at current rates into future years, half of our rainforest cover will be destroyed.2 We should remember that between 1968 and 1999 primary deforestation doubled.3
The benefits of conservation and protecting rainforests are varied, but include combating climate change, providing enjoyment for future generations, and finding new medicines. In the US, 40% of all pharmacy prescriptions are for medicines derived from living organisms.2
Controversial at times, an area of significant importance to conservation is tourism.
Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries and contributes 11% to the global GDP.4 There are around 700 million international travelers each year and this number is growing rapidly.4,5
Tourism is a potential solution to poverty, by creating work and entrepreneurial opportunities6, and to extinctions by making rainforest life more valuable through ecotourism. Over the past 20 years, there has been a rapid increase in nature travel.4
Slowly evolving, tourism is no longer just about sunbathing, water-skiing and relaxation, but is becoming more and more about experiencing and learning about the natural environment and its people.7
In the Amazon Rainforest, tourism is still in its infancy, especially in the northern Amazon, and to significantly benefit the people and wildlife it requires growth.8 However, tourism is still beneficial at key ports along the Amazon River.
If you’re wondering what there is to do in the Amazon, the activities are focused on incredible wildlife spotting opportunities, but there are other Amazon Rainforest attractions like visiting native groups, adventure activities, and viewing the constellations.
For an example of the types of tours on offer, you can see our guide to the top Amazon tours in Peru.
In the Napo region in Ecuador, ecotourism was beneficial in easily accessed areas. At two particular points, the Napo River and the town of Pto. Misahualii, tourists venturing on Amazon Jungle tours numbered 10,000 each year.7 One Amazon-ecotour-cluster demonstrated the profitability of Amazon Rainforest tourism by generating US$11.6 million in 2005.9
There were two distinct tourist types: resort tourists, who stay within a resort that imports resources and employs people from outside the region; and tourists who travel to different camps that employ people and purchase goods from the local area. Needless to say, the latter tourist group are the most important for a local economy, but resort tourists still played their part by promoting the area to an international level.7
Ecotourism defined by the Nature Conservancy is ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.’10
Nature tourism, which differs from ecotourism by lacking conservation value, is booming economically and can ruin the environment, killing the area’s initial attraction.10 For tourism to be a sustainable, non-destructive way to source income, there needs to be adequate facilities and a thoroughly thought out management plan.11,12 The local inhabitants must also be involved in the operation and management of the ecotourism operation i.e. employing locals as managers, guides, cooks, and cleaners etc.
Ecotourism injects foreign revenue into developing countries while keeping the area’s biodiversity intact. Furthermore, if people from prosperous nations visit these areas, they see these fragile cradles of life and spread the word to friends and family.
Because tourism is growing close to biodiversity hotspots,4 we should aim to increase the amount of land open to ecotourism. Too many tourists in one area would threaten biodiversity in a non-sustainable way. And as there is a rapid increase in nature travel,4 ecotourism should be the main focal point in equatorial rainforests as they contain more plants and animals than anywhere else on Earth.1
Rainforests used for the purpose of ecotourism are many times more profitable per hectare than forest cleared for pasture and fields,2 e.g. a tract of land in Brazil’s Pantanal was acquired by Conservation International and is now drawing more revenue per acre than surrounding land relying on cattle ranching.1 In Costa Rica, tourism is now the country’s largest source of foreign revenue, exceeding the banana export business that used to dominate.1
Because of the intrinsic link between biodiversity and ecotourist interest, biodiversity should be of high importance in all practices for a local community. Ignoring the prospect for ecotourism by destroying biodiversity through harvesting or logging is accurately described as ‘destroying the goose that lays the golden egg.’4
1. Wilson, E.O. 2008. The Future of Life. Abacus, London.
2. Wilson, E.O. 2001. The Diversity of Life. Penguin Books Ltd, London.
3. Bawa, S.K., R. Seidler. 1998. Natural forest management and conservation of biodiversity in a tropical forest. Conservation Biology. 12: 46-55.
4. Christ, C., O. Hillel, S. Matus, J. Sweeting. 2003. Tourism and biodiversity: Mapping tourism’s global footprint. United Nations Environment Program and Conservation International. Washington DC.
5. Andrade, G.I., and H. Rubio-Torgler. 1994. Sustainable Use of the Tropical Rain Forest: Evidence from the Avifauna in a Shifting-Cultivation Habitat Mosaic in the Colombian Amazon. Conservation Biology. 8: 545-554
6. Simpson, M.C., S. Gössling, D. Scott, C.M. Hall, E. Gladin. 2008. Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the Tourism Sector: Frameworks, Tools and Practices. UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics.
7. Lemky, K. M. K. 1992. The Amazon rainforest ecotourism industry of Napo, Ecuador. MM80002, University of Ottawa (Canada).
8. Divino, J. A. & McAleer, M. 2009. Modelling sustainable international tourism demand to the Brazilian Amazon. Environmental Modelling & Software, 24, 1411-1419.
9. Kirkby, C. A., Giudice, R., Day, B., Turner, K., Soares-Filho, B. S., Oliveira-Rodrigues, H. & Yu, D. W. 2011. Closing the ecotourism-conservation loop in the Peruvian Amazon. Environmental Conservation, 38, 6-17.
10. Drumm, A., and A. Moore. 2002. Ecotourism Development: A Manual for Conservation Planners and Managers: Volume 1: An Introduction to Ecotourism Planning, Second Edition. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington
11. Koens, J.F., C. Dieperink, M. Miranda. 2009. Ecotourism as a development strategy: experiences from Costa Rica. Environmental Development Sustainability. 11:1225–1237.
12. Blangy, S., and H. Mehta. 2006. Ecotourism and ecological restoration. Journal for Nature Conservation. 14: 233—236.