Driving conservation through sustainable tourism enterprises guest Thursday, 15 December 2016

Driving conservation through sustainable tourism enterprises
By ordercrazy (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Along the coast of Kenya, just north of Mombasa, the Watamu National Marine Park and Reserves grace the coastline. The oldest in East Africa, this marine protected area has given birth to a small but well-established local tourism industry. In recent years however, Watamu has struggled with increased solid waste pollution. Plastics and other waste pile up, harming marine biodiversity and spoiling the beauty of the beaches, thereby damaging the tourism product. In reaction to this, local tourism stakeholders came up with a way to turn this problem into an opportunity.

The Watamu Marine Association (WMA) is a voluntary association with a mission to develop community capacity to ensure the future protection of the Watamu Marine Park and Reserves and to develop partnerships to bridge the economic gap between the tourism sector and the local community. In 2009, the WMA set up a community recycling initiative with support from IUCN Netherlands and the African Fund of Endangered Wildlife Kenya Ltd. Waste is collected from the beach and mangroves as well as from local hotels and restaurants. It is then either sold for recycling or turned into cook stove briquettes, biogas, construction materials and fertilizer. This solution to the waste problem provides stable income for around 40 youth and women, most of whom were formerly unemployed. The waste recycling initiative of the WMA is just one example of tourism enterprises forming partnerships to find innovative solutions for threats to biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the foundation of human well-being and prosperity. At the same time, human activities are its greatest threat. In particular, biodiversity hotspots like savannahs, forests and coral reefs are under pressure due to unsustainable tourism development and the livelihood needs of low-income communities. To protect biodiversity, we need to create alternative economic opportunities for the people who depend on the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.

Enterprises that successfully combine tourism with conservation solutions depend strongly on partnerships with low-income communities. These enterprises may identify with different movements, but are all part of the broader movement towards sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism offers green and inclusive growth opportunities for Southern and Eastern Africa. However, sustainability is often treated as an add-on to tourism development rather than its own priority.

Enterprises with foresight realise that the quality of their customers experience strongly depends on intact ecosystems, diversity of species and local communities that are doing well. Sustainable tourism enterprises face challenges that they cannot tackle alone, especially when it comes to conservation. Therefore, sustainable tourism enterprises increasingly build partnerships with local communities and NGOs, directly and through associations.

Governments in Southern and Eastern Africa can drive biodiversity conservation and advance sustainable tourism development if they support enterprises and intermediaries. To do this, governments can:

  • Ensure that conservation and the inclusion of low-income communities are integrated on all levels of tourism policy.
  • Combine Tourism Satellite Accounts (TSAs) with Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) to inform sustainable tourism planning.
  • Employ multi-stakeholder structures that engage and coordinate between the interests of different actors to develop policy and enforce regulations.
  • Provide start-up grants and in-kind benefits for sustainable tourism enterprises for conservation that are run by or include low-income communities.

With the aim of analysing how governments in Southern and Eastern Africa can drive biodiversity conservation and advance sustainable tourism development, endeva and SEED recently developed a Sectoral Business Condition Brief. It provides recommendations for policy makers on how to support sustainable tourism enterprises, NGOs, intermediaries and associations like WMA.

Are you curious to learn more about unlocking the potential of sustainable tourism? Read our Sectoral Business Condition Brief “Driving Conservation through Sustainable Tourism Enterprises”.

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