No guilt trips: Tourism is part of the solution for nature

Biodiversity is at the heart of what drives the tourism industry. Tourist destinations such as tropical forests, beaches, national parks and even urban areas depend on their natural beauty to attract visitors and enchant them during their stay.

According to the World Economic Forum, around one in ten people across the globe works in the tourism industry, and around 1.4 billion tourists travel internationally every year. The magnitude of this sector highlights the significant impact it can have on our environment and establishes an incentive to protect our natural environments for the benefit of the industry, the visitors and communities in popular destinations. 

This sector contributes to biodiversity loss through the clearing of land for tourism development and through physical disturbance to sensitive areas caused by tourism activities. For example, coral reefs are at high risk of damage from activities like scuba diving, if not properly managed. This can impact fisheries and undermine the livelihoods of communities dependent on fishing for food and income. 

Loss of biodiversity can have adverse effects on visitors, tourism and the wider the economy. Tourism operations must shift from business as usual to make tourism and biodiversity mutually supportive. 

“Sustainable tourism should also maintain a high level of tourist satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices amongst them.” – World Tourism Organization

How does sustainability benefit tourism operators? 

  • Appeals to engaged consumers: Sustainable operations draw in tourists who care about their environmental footprint.
  • Reduces costs: Biodiversity-positive practices are often seen as an expense. In fact, they can lower operating costs in the areas of resource procurement, usage and disposal.
  • Improves employee productivity: Research shows that staff are more motivated when their work aligns with their values, such as responsibility to the environment.
  • Attracts investment and support: Sustainable practices are more likely to draw support from socially responsible investors, governments and local communities.

Local, regional and national governments, indigenous and local communities as well as other stakeholders (consumers, developers and tourism operators) have the shared responsibility to manage tourism in a sustainable manner.

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Where do we start?

A clear framework for action is needed to implement change. The Convention on Biological Diversity has created guidelines on biodiversity and tourism development to maximize the positive benefits of tourism to biodiversity, and vice versa, while minimizing negative social and environmental impacts from tourism. 

The United Nations Environment Programme, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), United Nations Foundation and Rainforest Alliance are partners in the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria initiative. The criteria provide a starting point of minimum standards that businesses, governments and destinations should strive for in social, environmental, cultural and economic sustainability. 

Pangandaran, Indonesia, a popular tourist destination rich in biodiversity, exemplifies the application of sustainable tourism. The 2006 tsunami and weak tourism management had led to detrimental impacts to the area’s coral reefs and marine biodiversity. The Government of Indonesia worked with UNWTO to develop the “Tourism Development Supporting Biodiversity Conservation'' project. It involved all key stakeholders and used the CBD guidelines to establish biodiversity and culture-related tourism products. A zoning process blocked some areas from development to avoid further damage to habitats or threatened populations of species. Other initiatives include the construction of an artificial coral reef to support local fish stocks and provide scuba diving sites. These efforts have generated income for local communities, improved conditions of the ecosystems and raised awareness about the benefits of sustainable tourism. 

Safari 1


Implement simple actions to help protect biodiversity

Many organizations are making efforts towards sustainable tourism, however these strategies must be strengthened for the long-term success of the industry. Environmental features and local biodiversity are part of what attracts visitors to a destination in the first place. Looking after this natural wealth is critical to building a tourism sector that serves the interests of visitors, local communities and future generations.

Do your part to make a difference!


More information:

Tourism and Biodiversity

CBD Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development

Action Agenda Commitments to Aichi Target 14


Ways to nurture a mutually beneficial relationship between biodiversity and tourism

  • Understand the negative impacts tourist activities can have on biodiversity.
  • Support conservation organizations in the areas you visit.
  • Organize and participate in campaigns to clean up local habitats such as beaches.
  • Minimize waste and pollution by avoiding use of disposable plastic products and using public transportation when possible.
  • “Leave nothing but footprints.” Respect your environments and leave them in the same condition as you found them.
  • Prioritize animal welfare. Do your research and participate in activities and attractions that do not capture or harm animals from the wild.
  • Support local communities. Eat locally and support local artisans if you’re buying souvenirs.


  • Understand the negative impacts tourist activities can have on biodiversity.
  • Integrate biodiversity considerations into planning, decision-making, construction and operational stages. Appoint a team or senior manager to ensure accountability.
  • Seek sustainable sources of food supplies, especially of fish and seafood, and agricultural products for restaurants in tourist destinations.
  • Ensure souvenirs are not produced from threatened or protected plant and animal species but instead are made from sustainable materials including recycled products.
  • Educate staff, clients, suppliers and stakeholders about the motivations behind actions to conserve biodiversity and provide any necessary training.
  • Comply with local, national and international standards and regulations.
  • Partner with responsible organizations to offer a variety of nature-based activities to avoid overcrowding and overuse of sites.
  • Ensure that all waste resulting from tourism activities is treated and disposed of in a responsible manner.
  • Provide tourists with guidelines to participate in activities (codes of conduct for trekking or turtle watching, etc.) in a way that minimizes adverse impacts on the environment.
  • Implement best practices like the IUCN hotel guide, designed to integrate sustainable use of biological resources into day-to-day operations.