We know the economic impacts of the pandemic have been devastating for most industries, but there’s one, in particular, you may not have thought of that could use your help: ecotourism. In this article, we’ll explore why ecotourism has suffered so drastically from the pandemic and what can be done to save it.
How the Pandemic Is Negatively Impacting Ecotourism
As the pandemic drags on, it’s become increasingly difficult to ignore its overwhelming impact on the planet—and ecotourism is no exception. The business of bringing tourists to natural areas and providing educational tours that promote sustainability has come to a grinding halt, leaving operators with little income and less still in the way of government support.
Travel restrictions and fear of getting sick have kept people from environmental hot spots worldwide. Unfortunately for these organizations, the majority are small businesses not supported by large corporate backing; without help from external sources like government bailouts or fundraising campaigns, they’re fighting an uphill battle to stay afloat in these trying times.
Ecotourism’s Positive Impact on Wildlife and Nature Protection
As ecotourism grew in popularity worldwide, its positive effects on nature and wildlife protection couldn’t be denied. Connecting people to nature helped promote conservation and provided a financial incentive to protect species and ecosystems.
By bringing people into nature, those involved in ecotourism get firsthand experience with the diverse wildlife around the globe—encountering rare animals and plants and learning about them and their role in the natural environment. More often than not, such experiences have been transformational for participants. It’s no wonder that over 500 million people a year made eco-friendly trips during its peak.
Ecotourism’s Important Contribution to Rural Economies
Ecotourism can provide economic stability and growth for communities, especially in rural areas. It does so through job creation and long-term sustainable development.
Local communities often benefit from trained guides, knowledge exchange, transportation services, and increased visitor spending on food, souvenirs, and other local goods. The pandemic has put a huge strain on these already vulnerable rural economies.
This has had an ‘absolutely catastrophic’ impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people who rely on tourism to survive. For example, here in Costa Rica, over 20% of employment is tourism-related, and nearly half comes from ecotourism alone. This translates into more than 200 thousand direct jobs jeopardized due to Covid-19.
What Support and Relief Efforts Are in Place for the Ecotourism Industry?
With the ecotourism industry in trouble and needing help, many organizations have stepped up to provide support and relief.
Ecotourism Industry Support Group (EISG)
The EISG is a group of more than 1,200 ecotourism businesses, non-governmental organizations, academics and experts who have come together to provide resources and advice to help the ecotourism sector during the pandemic. They have also been lobbying governments for much-needed financial aid.
Non-profits like The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International are teaming up with local government agencies and tourism boards to find innovative ways to save endangered species habitats while supporting the livelihoods of local people affected by the downturn the industry.
Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe.org are helping some small businesses stay afloat by providing them with a platform to receive donations from their customers and other generous supporters.
The Role of Technology and Virtual Tourism in the Future of Ecotourism
The pandemic has undoubtedly put ecotourism in crisis and has deeply affected the industry’s revenues. But, with technological shifts, there is an opportunity to create new solutions for ecotourism businesses amidst this challenging time.
Virtual tours & experiences
Businesses continue providing services virtually, like offering tours online or guided whale-watching experiences via video call. Some places also offer access to live webcams of wildlife and virtual park ranger lectures where you can ask questions about the park and its wildlife from a safe distance!
Interaction through technology
Online platforms like chat rooms also allow people to have meaningful conversations without physical interactions by connecting with people worldwide through their shared interests.
With technological advances continuing faster than ever, it’s clear that tech is here to stay an integral part of ecotourism’s future success—even when things return to normal.
Ecotourism has taken a devastating hit from the pandemic, and many of its businesses face an uncertain future. By doing our part, we can help sustain ecotourism and the incredible value it provides to local communities, wildlife and our planet.