words Alexa Wang
As the world continues to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are constantly doing what they can to shield themselves from the worst economic impacts of the crisis.
Economic diversification has seen a huge uptake as a result, with many countries achieving this through increased investment in ecotourism. This is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education”.
In practice, this includes constructing sustainable accommodation that respects the local environment, encouraging tourist activities like beach cleaning or flora and fauna rescue programmes, and educating visitors on minimising their environmental impact when travelling. In turn, the money generated can be used to fund green initiatives that further protect the environment.
Ecotourism was already growing in stature pre-COVID. According to booking.com’s 2019 sustainable travel report, 73% of global travelers planned on staying in at least one eco-friendly or green accommodation in 2019. This is the fourth consecutive year that the company reported a rise in this figure, from 62% in 2016 to 65% in 2017, and 68% in 2018. Such demand for green travel has long been reflected in the tourism policies of different countries.
Take Dominica, for instance. Not only can visitors engage in sustainable activities like conducting coastal surveys and gardening, but the small island-nation has a particularly high concentration of eco resorts. This spate of sustainable accommodation has been largely funded by the country’s citizenship by investment scheme, which allows non-citizens to obtain a Dominican passport by making an investment in either real estate or the government’s Economic Diversification Fund.
With more countries seeking new ways to stimulate economic growth in light of COVID-19, as well as the rise of a more sustainable mindset in general, many embraced ecotourism in 2020, including these three nations.
Cambodia’s tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. Take the Angkor Archaeological Park, which recorded a 99.5% drop in revenue in April 2020 compared to April 2019. By July, over 3,000 tourism-related businesses had closed, causing around 45,000 job losses. Considering the sector accounts for a quarter of the country’s economy, the Cambodian government has been examining ways to diversify and encourage visitors to return, with ecotourism being a key focus.
Back in July, after noting that tourists had been increasingly drawn to the country’s coastal areas before the pandemic, the government released a report in collaboration with the World Bank titled Enabling Ecotourism Development in Cambodia. The report posited that bolstering Cambodia’s ecotourism industry would be a great way to harness interest in these regions, in turn strengthening the country’s tourism experience and enticing people to return. It recommended strengthening landscape planning and management processes for protected areas, improving access and connectivity, and implementing revenue management systems for local businesses. These proposals are set to be implemented under the Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Ecotourism Project at a total cost of $53.16 (£48) million.
In September 2020, the Egyptian government launched the “Eco Egypt” campaign. This is the country’s first initiative aimed at promoting its protected areas, as well as raising awareness about environmental issues and the importance of preserving natural resources. Dr Yasmine Fouad, Egypt’s Minister for the Environment, also confirmed that boosting ecotourism was in part about reviving the economy in the wake of coronavirus.
The campaign has received backing from the Global Environment Facility and has introduced many measures to meet their aims. These include a 50% reduction on fees for those visiting reserves in the South Sinai and Red Sea Governorates, and developing infrastructure and tourism services in 13 existing protected areas. For example, visitor centres will be established in the Ras Mohammed National Park and the Wadi El Fayoum Oasis.
After the double whammy of the 2019-20 bushfire crisis and COVID-19, Ecotourism Australia and WWF-Australia teamed up to help six bushfire-affected destinations kick-start their ecotourism efforts. Each region will receive $30,000 (£16,500) to progress with Ecotourism Australia’s ECO Destination programme, allowing them to join a large network of ecotourism destinations where they can learn sustainability best practices, in line with international standards.
Participating in this scheme also demonstrates that these destinations’ sustainable and ecotourism credentials have been authenticated by an independent auditor. This proves to tourists that they’re a genuine ecotourism destination, which should encourage more to visit. Speaking about the investment, WWF-Australia’s Chief Executive Dermot O’Gorman said: “This partnership will help Australia’s nature-based tourism sector get back on its feet and support tourism activities that are good for both people and the environment.”