Tourism and National Parks

By Professor Ralf Buckley,
Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research.


Links between tourism and conservation, both positive and negative, are increasingly widespread and significant worldwide.

Tourism creates ecological impacts, but it can generate financial and political support for conservation. The net outcome depends on: land tenure and land-use history; the biology of plants and animals and the behaviour of tourists; the intricacies of government budgets and the contractual details of commercial concession agreements; and the livelihoods of nearby residents and liabilities of land managers. (1, 2, 3, 4)

How close and complex these links can be is not always appreciated, as revealed lately by controversy over tiger tourism in India. (5) One way to show their significance is to calculate the proportion of total remaining populations, for rare and endangered plant and animal species, which are now protected by funding derived from tourism.

Two new open-access articles in the Journal PLOS ONE show such calculations for IUCN-RedListed mammal and frog species respectively. (6,7) Similar calculations for birds will be available shortly.

The results highlight a new and critical issue. Parks agencies in many countries now rely so heavily on tourism revenue that their threatened species have effectively become dependent on the vagaries of international travel markets. This presents a new risk to many species, since international tourism flows can fluctuate widely and rapidly in response to airfares, security risks or disease outbreaks.

A number of threatened species have already suffered through exactly this mechanism. Examples include rhino in Nepal and lemurs in Madagascar.

Australia is a wealthy nation which can easily afford its parks. Certainly, we should encourage visitors to watch and learn about our unique plants and wildlife, and even charge them for the privilege. But we should be careful not to let our parks agencies become beholden to large‑scale commercial interests, particularly where the risks to conservation remain unknown.

Professor Ralf Buckley is Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research, and Dr J Guy Castley is a Senior Research Fellow.

1. Castley, J.G. (2011) Can tourism really have conservation benefits? The Conversation (online)

2. Buckley, R.C. (2010) The sustainability of wilderness. ON LINE Opinion.

3. Buckley, R. C. (2009) Parks and tourism. PLoS Biol 7(6): e1000143. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000143

4. Buckley, R.C. (2010). Safaris can help conservation. Nature 467: 1047.

5. Buckley, R.C. and Pabla, H.S. (2012) Conservation: tourism ban won’t help Indian tigers. Nature 489: 33.

6. Buckley, R.C., Castley, J. Guy, Pegas, F., Mossaz, A.C. and Steven R. (2012) A population accounting approach to assess tourism contributions to conservation of IUCN-redlisted mammals. PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044134.  (9 Sept 2012)

7. Morrison, F.C., Simpkins, C.A., Castley, J.G. and Buckley, R.C. (2012) Tourism and the conservation of critically endangered frogs. PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043757 (9 Sept 2012).