Can Nature-based Tourism Help Conservation? – by Clem Tisdell and Clevo Wilson

Concern has been expressed worldwide about the continuing global loss of biodiversity and socially acceptable policies are being sought to slow its rate of loss. Nature-based tourism adds economic value to the stock of wild biodiversity and is seen by many (especially when it involves ecotourism) as being an effective contributor to nature conservation. The fact that tourism is the world’s largest industry and that nature-based tourism is its most rapidly growing component suggests that it has a major impact on the state of natural environments. However, nature-based tourism (depending on its attributes) can be supportive or destructive of biodiversity, or may even have little impact on it, as Clem Tisdell and Clevo Wilson have discovered.

In our book ‘Nature-based Tourism and Conservation’, we identify and explore the type of factors that enable tourism to make a positive contribution to nature conservation, and also discuss its limits as a means for conserving biodiversity in the wild and possible negative environmental consequences.  We draw upon both case studies and the results of surveys of visitors to particular outdoor nature-based attractions, such as national parks, protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries, wilderness areas (for example, Antarctica) and so on. Some case studies concentrate on the conservation of particular types of wildlife species, including the royal albatross, glow-worms, penguins, sea turtles, tree kangaroos and whales, for example.  We also look at economic, conservation and tourism consequences of World Heritage listing of natural areas, and analyse tourism in Antarctica, Australian national parks and protected areas, and in tropical nature reserves developed and managed by NGOs.

While these case studies our interesting in themselves, their prime purpose is to identify and illustrate general principles. We have discovered that neoclassical economics fails to account for several of the relationships identified.

Our research has also explored the attitudes of tourists in terms of entry fees to national parks and other user charges (such as camping fees), particularly in light of their potential role in generating income to support nature conservation. Much of the existing literature on ecotourism supposes that education about nature is important in promoting pro-conservation attitudes in tourists, but exactly how well-informed are tourists before visiting outdoor nature attractions? In view of bounded rationality, how do tourists decide on what attractions to visit during a holiday? Their processes of decision-making are varied, it seems, but are found to accord more closely with those predicted in behavioural economics than those assumed in neoclassical economics.

Furthermore, it is apparent that visits to natural attractions are experiential goods for many tourists, who are often poorly informed about the attributes of these attractions before visiting them. Consequently, this limits the applicability of neoclassical methods for valuing such attractions, especially when they are only likely to be visited once or very infrequently by a tourist. On the other hand, if individuals repeatedly visit a site for recreation, they can be expected to be well-informed about its characteristics, and neoclassical methods of economic valuation are likely to be more relevant.

Nature-based Tourism and Conservation’ also identifies factors that make it economically viable for a private firm or for an NGO to conserve wildlife for tourism purposes, such as in the case of wildlife tourism on the Otago Peninsula of New Zealand. The level of population of the species conserved by these wildlife enterprises is generally less than the minimum viable population required for the survival of the focal species. The survival of the species depends on additional conservation efforts by public bodies and by other organisations.

It is also apparent from our case studies that tourists have diverse attitudes to nature, and respond to different features of it. This raises some policy issues. For instance, some tourists may be more supportive of wildlife conservation if they are able to directly interact with wildlife – feeding wild birds, for example. This, however, is likely to be frowned on by most conservationists.

One of our case studies also revealed a ‘halo’ or ‘proximity valuation’ effect; some tourists valued being in the proximity of wildlife, even though this wildlife was not seen by them.  Other issues we have examined include the attitudes of tourists to potential commercial developments in national parks and protected areas; for example, the provision of accommodation facilities and a limited number of shops, and why there is NGO provision rather than government supply of some protected areas.  The apparent diversity in the behaviours of tourists clearly calls for new approaches in the economic modelling of these behaviours and in determining their consequences for biodiversity conservation.

Clem Tisdell is Professor Emeritus in the School of Economics at The University of Queensland and a Professorial Research Associate of its Resource and Sustainable Management Group. He is regarded as one of the founders of tourism economics. See Clem’s other article ‘The Role of Diversity and Competition in Promoting Economic Performance.

Clevo Wilson is Professor of Economics in the School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology. His research interests are in environmental, agricultural and tourism economics with a special interest in nature-based tourism.  He is the editor of the journal ‘Economic Analysis and Policy’, which is published by the Australian Economic Society (Qld branch).


, ,


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.


  1. The Role of Diversity and Competition in Promoting Economic Performance – by Clement A Tisdell | ELGARBLOG - March 8, 2013

    […] also ‘Can Nature-based Tourism Help Conservation?‘ by the same […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: