Raising the bar for ecotourism: IUCN joins effort to align ecotourism with conservation goals

IUCN has over 1,300 Members, including 217 state and government agencies, 1, 066 NGOs and networks of over 16,000 experts worldwide from more than 160 countries. The IUCN World Conservation Congress meets once every four years to debate and adopt resolutions and recommendations on important conservation issues. These decisions guide IUCN’s policy and work programme, as well as influence many organisations around the world.

September 12, 2016 – Honolulu, Hawaii — Among the landmark decisions emerging last week from the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress is a bold decision to improve standards for ecotourism worldwide. Motion 65, “Improving standards in ecotourism”, proposed by the Yale Tropical Resources Institute in collaboration with The International Ecotourism Society, Nature Seychelles, the African Wildlife Foundation, the WILD Foundation, The Wilderness Society Australia, National Parks Australia Council, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and the Moroccan Association for Ecotourism and Nature Protection, urges IUCN to renew their definition of ecotourism and address the barriers to its effectiveness as a conservation tool.

Defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local people, and involves interpretation and education,” ecotourism aspires to be a form of nature-based travel that helps people and nature. Today, the fastest growing sector of the largest global industry, ecotourism development is used as a tool for countless conservation efforts in public and private protected areas around the world. “Ideally,” says Anna Spenceley, Chair of IUCN’s Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group, “ecotourism should be the most sustainable form of nature-based tourism. In protected areas, and other areas of high biodiversity, this form of travel should inspire visitors, conserve nature and culture, and benefit local people equitably.”

However, these tourism operations often create complex conservation challenges. Despite the alleged role ecotourism has in sustainable development, poverty eradication, and biodiversity protection, there is growing concern that ecotourism activities are failing to protect communities and natural areas due to commercial greenwashing and inadequate management, monitoring, and resources. “Done poorly,” remarks Peter Cochrane, IUCN Regional Councilor for Oceania, “it can be degrading in every sense of the word. So high standards of performance and behaviour are essential, not only to protect the environment but also to communicate and demonstrate to visitors, local communities and regulators that ecotourism is a mature, responsible and valued part of every economy.”

Welcoming the resolution after it passed with overwhelming support, Mr. Cochrane is “delighted that IUCN will be collaborating on the development and adoption of high standards and associated certification to ensure that ecotourism operations and operators deliver what they promise, with positive impact.” Through this initiative, together, IUCN Commissions, Members, and the Tourism and Protected Area Specialist Group will help the travel industry develop and manage ecotourism in a more responsible way. Seeing its effects first hand, Andrea Athanas, Program Manager for the African Wildlife Foundation agrees, when done responsibly “eco-tourism…is a positive ally for conservation.” By building global partnerships and synthesizing data and perspectives from the tourism industry, natural and social scientists, and economists, IUCN will play a large role in improving and promoting new standards to reverse the negative impacts of ecotourism across the planet.

For more information:

Read the full motion adopted at the IUCN Congress here: https://portals.iucn.org/congress/motion/065

And visit the IUCN WCPA Website on tourism: https://www.iucn.org/protected-areas/world-commission-protected-areas/wcpa/what-we-do/tourism-tapas


Tropical Resources Institute, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

301 Prospect Street, Room 202, New Haven, Connecticut 06511

Tel: +1 (484) 269-4745

Email: shanefeyers@gmail.com

Market research for the AfDB on tourism certification, waste and water management in Africa


The African Development Bank (AfDB) is currently doing research on tourism certification in Africa, focusing on incentives and standards for waste and water management (and what actions could encourage better practices across the accommodation sector.)

If you would like to contribute your ideas and insights, please complete this short online questionnaire by Friday 23 September 2016


An introduction to tourism concessioning

Concessioning 14 tipsThe World Bank Group has recently published Part One of a ‘Tourism Concessioning Toolkit in Protected Areas’, authored by Anna Spenceley, Hermione Nevill, Carla Faustiano Coelho and Michelle Souto.

The work was led by the World Bank Group’s Tourism and Competitiveness Global Practice, and the International Finance Corporation’s Public-Private Partnership Transaction Advisory Department (C3P), drawing from experience in Mozambique, South Africa, and other parts of the world. This document sets out the stage and core principles to be taken into consideration when designing concessioning programs.


  • Governments and Protected Areas Authorities are under increasing pressure to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of their beaches, parks, and pristine natural sites, while also growing tourism activity.
  • Tourism concessioning is one solution. Delivering successful tourism concessioning programs, however, is challenging and depends on the right mix of characteristics, technical expertise, and institutional experience.
  • The World Bank Group presents 14 key characteristics displayed in most successful tourism concessioning programs.

The document is currently available from several sites, using the links below:

The Responsible Tourist

How to find, book and get the most from your holiday

ASIN: B01FCG5EF2oie_82110153oRUxjPt

Why Travel Responsibly?

Travelling responsibly can provide a richer holiday experience. It means that you’re not just passing by, but are actively contributing to the places you visit and the people who live there.

What is the book about?

 The Responsible Tourist gives you the tools you need to make an informed decision about your holiday. The book describes how to find a responsible destination, how to find and use online booking platforms that promote sustainable holidays, and how to find and book directly with a responsible hotel or tour operator.

How do I get the book?

The Responsible Tourist is available to buy now as an e-book from Amazon Kindle, for USD 0.99 (or the equivalent value in your local currency). It is available free to members of Amazon Prime, and Kindle Unlimited. The e-book is compatible with Kindle Fire devices, and Free Kindle Tablets. Click here for the Amazon link

The book is also available in pdf format for researchers at the following sites:


The book is an initiative contributing to the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Program, and has been reviewed by members of the IUCN Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

About the authors

Dr Anna Spenceley is an international tourism expert and consultant with 20 years experience sustainable tourism. Anna is Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group (TAPAS Group), a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Working Group. Her profile is included in Who’s Who in the World.

Andrew Rylance is an economic development specialist focusing on tourism in rural areas and natural resource economics. He has worked throughout Africa for organisations such as the United Nations, World Bank, European Union, German International Cooperation (GIZ) and SNV. He is currently a Senior Project Advisor with the United Nations Development Programme supporting sustainable financing of protected areas in Mozambique. He is also a member of the IUCN WCPA TAPAS Group.


Panorama webinars on sustainable tourism: videos and presentations now available!

iucn wcpa tapas logo

Links to recordings for the twin IUCN Panorama tourism and protected areas webinars are now available!

Session 2: 7th April 2016: Video of Webinar 2: click here

  1. “Making protected area concessions work for communities”
    Sue Snyman, Namibia
  2. “Profiting from eco-tourism in Cambodia”
    Ross Sinclair, Cambodia

All presentations are available here

If you’d like to get involved in the Panorama initiative, click here

Panorama webinars on sustainable tourism in protected areas

iucn wcpa tapas logoJoin a Panorama twin webinar and learn more about solutions for sustainable tourism in protected areas!

The tourism business plays a major role in sustaining the global network of protected areas. At the same time, half of all international travelers visit a protected area during their trip. However, the advocates of natural spaces often are concerned about the potential impacts of unsustainable tourism.

Join a Panorama twin webinar on sustainable protected area tourism solutions!

Session 1: 31 March 2016 

Session 2: 7th April 2016 

Presenters from a range of countries will introduce their case studies (different presenters in both sessions – names and details to be announced soon), explain what made them successful and discuss with the audience. The webinars are co-hosted by the IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme and the WCPA Tourism Specialist Group.

Learn more about inspiring examples of tourism and conservation benefitting from each other, while also finding out more about the Panorama initiative!

Sign up now contacting  Panorama Team (you can sign up for one or for both sessions).

Two new protected area tourism articles in Tourism and Hospitality Research

wpcTourism and protected areas: Comparing the 2003 and 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress

by Anna Spenceley

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Parks Congress is held once a decade, and brings together thousands of the world’s experts on protected areas. In 2014, the Sydney World Parks Congress and the parallel event, Global Eco, provided a platform for 125 presentations relating to tourism and visitation. This paper presents a synthesis of the body of work shared at Sydney, including some of the cutting-edge issues, best practices, and inspiring initiatives relating to sustainable tourism. In particular, it compares issues that were highlighted at the 2003 World Parks Congress, and how they have evolved and progressed over the past decade. The paper highlights the role of different stakeholders from different corners of the world in promoting sustainable tourism practices. It also considers the relevance of tourism to the themes of the World Parks Congress, and how the sector is reflected within the official records of the 2003 and 2014 World Parks Congress. Looking forward to the next 10 years, the paper reflects on specific challenges, gaps in knowledge, and areas for further research and outreach.

word map

Can a wildlife tourism company influence conservation and the development of tourism in a specific destination?

by Anna Spenceley and Susan Snyman

The evolution of tourism destinations is influenced by a range of factors including the policy and planning framework, the role of destination management organisations, and integration of tourism into the local and national economy. The aim of this paper is to describe how the private sector can influence destination development, by considering a luxury safari lodge (Mombo Camp) and its holding company (Okavango Wilderness Safaris) within the Okavango Delta of Botswana. Through a series of stakeholder interviews and literature review, the research found that Mombo had influenced the destination’s quality standards, how it is marketed and promoted, and also in the conservation of endangered species. Over the course of 30 years, the holding company has also been influential in the development and implementation of tourism and conservation policy, environmental awareness among youth, and also conservation research. The findings of this study suggest that destination planning authorities should encourage reputable private sector operators that have a long-term interest in the destination and promote sustainable tourism practices, including those that can mobilise a network of facilities and attractions, can collaborate with their competitors, and can support and advise government on policy and its implementation.