Eight billion annual visits to natural protected areas now generate $600 billion across the world every year, roughly equivalent to total global advertisement expenditure for 2017.
Going beyond national parks and designated reserves, the real economic contribution of nature-based tourism and recreation is vastly higher, yet visitor interaction with natural areas is constantly evolving, redefining old opportunities and creating new ones, particularly under the influence of technology.
Ohrid SOS reveals what to expect over the next ten years and sooner.
1. Conservation & Tourism Are Lovers Waiting To Happen
Travel and nature protection have a lot of shared history. Not all of it has been smooth, but proliferating research is positively linking clear water with recreational expenditure and real estate value; species richness with tourism flows; and healthy bird populations with tourism advantage for developing countries. At the same time, beach closures, wildfires, extreme weather events and algal blooms are provoking the tourism industry to reassess its environmental approach, while the conservation sector is conscious that sustainable visitation is one of the few workable finance models to secure natural habitats for the future. Partnerships between the two can only become deeper. There’s nowhere else to go.
2. Tech Will Niche Nature-Tourism Further
The ecotourism market is highly segmented with visitor options from safaris to volunteer travel. Nonetheless, sophisticated sensors, remote camera traps, cutting-edge wildlife documentaries and advanced lens-technology are revealing the innermost secrets of vast new sections of the natural world. They are also empowering ordinary people to create their own spectacular footage. The result is greater traveler enthusiasm for a much broader range of animals beyond the large or highly visible species such as big elephants and birds that have traditionally dominated nature-based visitation up to now. Specialist tourism offers that can build products around this demand have a waiting audience and readymade tools to reach them.
3. Sustainable Supply Will (Finally) Answer Responsible Demand
When travel insurance giant AIG releases the results of 2017 research under the title “Consumers Crave Education on Sustainable Travel Practices and Products” or surveys from Germany find that, compared with the 62% of interviewees who want to make responsible travel choices, just 2% are able to do so due to price and a lack of options, a clear market opportunity is gaping. Meanwhile, even if blockchain technology fails to establish direct transparency between consumers and tourism industry players, other tech soon will. In other words, competitiveness in responsible travel is only just beginning and the niche businesses serving this demand need to build their advantage before mainstream rivals move in soon.
4. Decision-Makers Will Listen To The Birds
Ecosystem services are a trending topic in policy-making circles, resulting from detailed research into how habitats like wetlands provide diverse economic advantages for free such as flood defence and water purification. These insights increase the known cost of both habitat transformation and large-scale visitation, causing decision-makers and the voting public to question the merits of tourism expansion. As regulatory frameworks look to protect nature more robustly, tourism industry actors must innovate ways to avoid new-build accommodation; move people more nature-sensitively; and demonstrate greater local benefits from fewer visitors. Otherwise, they will be asked to leave.
5. AR Will Make Nature More Accessible
One of the major challenges with ecotourism is bringing guests closer to nature without becoming too invasive. Not only is expert knowledge required to guide people to witness eagles hunting or dolphins playing, but nature plays by its own rules. Animals do not always appear where they are expected; their routines change; and their habitats move. AR cannot replace the awe that visitors feel in the presence of a bear, but it can allow them to see how bears interact with their environment even when there’s no animal in sight. Already offering novel visitor experiences in museums and cultural heritage sites, AR will move into natural environments with powerful results.