PROTECTED AREA
A view from the top at Mount Kenya World Heritage Site. The IUCN report notes how local communities can also benefit from tourism in protected areas.IUCN

Tourism in protected areas can be an effective tool for conservation if well-managed systems are in place, according to an IUCN report.

The report Tourism and Visitor Management in Protected Areas: Guidelines for Sustainability, was unveiled at the World Parks Congress in Sydney and said that increasing the tourist flow into the parks can help conservation and community development goals.

The report was based on expert contributions from experiences in places like Machu Picchu to Namibia, said an IUCN press release.

"Unlike other industries and human-driven activities, tourism in protected areas can be a strong positive force – increasing a sense of stewardship and revenues that are vital for the long-term protection of these important conservation areas," said Dr Yu-Fai Leung, the chief editor of the report and member of the IUCN WCPA Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group.

The reports cite the case of an eco-tourism company Wilderness Safari in Africa which paid for its camps a total of 4.4 million dollars in 2014, a sum that could be used to conserve the protected areas.

Governments, protected area agencies, tour operators, retailers and members of the local community can all benefit from tourism revenues, the report notes.

It was found that in protected areas where tourist footfall was low, the parks suffered from reduced political support and funding.

International tourism is a trillion-dollar business, accounting for up to 9% of global GDP, said the report. Protected areas, including National Parks and World Heritage Sites, are among the top attraction for tourists interested in exploring natural areas and its wildlife across the world.

However, the report also calls for identification of costs and impacts of tourism.

It is well-known that uncontrolled tourism can place enormous pressure on resources and increase pollution of land and water, besides leading to pressure on endangered species and exposing protected areas to forest fires.

Protected area managers are grappling with a number of challenges, including climate change, illegal wildlife trade, inadequate infrastructure and competing interests for natural resources.

An increase in visitors can generate much needed revenues from entrance fees, guided tours, accommodation and concessions if the system is well-managed.