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Wildlife as Recreation - Ecotourism

percent nature million visitors

Tourism is one of the largest industries worldwide, generating 200 million jobs globally. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) estimated that there were some 663 million international travelers in 1999, and that these spent a total of more than $453 billion. Nature tourists perhaps account for 40–60 percent of all international tourists, with 20–40 percent focusing on wildlife in particular. In addition, nature tourism is increasing at an annual rate of 10–30 percent.

Ecotourism is a special form of nature travel that The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines as "responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people." FIGURE 11.3
Wildlife watching is a popular activity among Americans. More than 66 million Americans watched birds or other wildlife in 2001. (Field Mark Publications)
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines ecotourism as "environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features—both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socioeconomic involvement of local populations."

The United Nations General Assembly designated 2002 the International Year of Ecotourism. Programs run collaboratively by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the WTO, and TIES focused on ecotourism's capacity to aid in the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, promote the exchange of ideas in ecotourism management, and allow for exchanges of experiences in ecotourism.

According to TIES, ecotourists are most often between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-four, are evenly split between males and females, and are usually college graduates (82 percent). However, recent increases in ecotourism among people with less education suggest that FIGURE 11.4
Percent of total residential wildlife activity participants, by activity, 2001
ecotourism is expanding into more mainstream markets. The majority of ecotourists (60 percent) prefer to travel as a couple, though others like to travel either with their families (15 percent) or alone (13 percent). In surveys, eco-tourists ranked their top priorities as "wilderness setting," "wildlife viewing," and "hiking/trekking."

TIES' list of popular ecotourism destinations and activities includes hiking and camping in U.S. National Parks (more than 424 million visitations in 2001), visiting nature reserves in South Africa (5,898,000 visitors in 1998), going on safari in Kenya (826,000 visitors in 1993), visiting national parks in Australia (1.7 million visitors in 1998), birdwatching in Peru (642,336 visitors in 1999), visiting national parks in Brazil (3.5 million visitors in 1998), trekking in Nepal (50,708 international trekkers in 1997), visiting parks and reefs in Belize, and viewing wildlife in the Galapagos Islands (60,000 visitors per year on average).

A nationwide survey conducted by TIES in 1998 asked the question, "What type of nature-based activities did you participate in during your last nature-based vacation?" The top twelve answers in order were: visiting parks, hiking, exploring a preserved area, observing wildlife (non-birds), walking nature trails in ecosystems, viewing unique natural places (sinkholes, dunes), participating in environmental education, birdwatching, biking, FIGURE 11.5
Percent of residential wildlife observers, by type of wildlife observed, 2001
freshwater fishing, snorkeling or scuba diving, and exploring a major protected swamp or marsh.

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