Environment: Sustainable tourism ensuing from national parks

Parna Jaú, Brazil

The General Assembly of the United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. “This choice is a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability — economic, social, and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued”, says the Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organism (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai.

National Parks are the best representations of what can be considered Sustainable Tourism. According to UNTWO, there are countless benefits for a region with a national park. Attracting visitors is the most obvious one of them. However, there are opportunities galore regarding the awareness of the community, revitalization of the area, ranking of the destination and commitment to the development of that region.

African Parks is a non-profit international organization; it was established in 2000 by a group of conservationists with the purpose to rehabilitate and manage conservation units. Currently, it runs ten parks in seven African countries, totalizing an area of around six million hectares. The main objective of this organization is to introduce modern management models, protect vegetal and animal diversity of the units, and seek to promote development.

The management model is similar to the one applied in Brazil, a country where there are 326 conservation units under the responsibility of the Federal Government, which are equivalent to 9% of the total territory of the country. Brazilian parks are managed by “Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade” (ICMBio) (Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation), an autarchy linked to the Ministry of Environment. According to the entity, only 72 conservation units have attractives for visitors, that is: trails, camping infrastructure, and natural attractions, such as waterfalls, sand dunes and caves.

Chapa dos Guimarães, Brazil

African examples

According to Thiago Beraldo, the environmental analysts of ICMBio, Africa displays some good examples of national park governance. “I did some research in Zambia, in a park named South Luangwa, and there are some very interesting models to learn from it, especially regarding the communitarian base and the concessions. Whereas, the South African model features an enterprising view, the units are seen according to their potential economic capacity”, he explains. “Nowadays, globally, it is very difficult to be willing to to focus on conservation without looking at the economic sustainability in the surrounding communities”.

In 2015, Beraldo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, analyzed the economic importance of national parks in Brazil. According to him, the conservation units, supervised by the Federal Government, received more than 8 million visits in 2015. Those visitors spent R$ 1.1 billion in the towns, which provide access to the units, and they generate 43 thousand jobs. The hospitality industry sector received most of the benefits generated by the income of the national parks. The sector registered R$ 267 million from direct sales, followed by food services, R$ 241 million. “In my research, I was able to see there is a need of two environments: the internal environment, which is the one we offer as an attraction, infrastructure, and service; and the external environment. A visitor when chooses a place to go picks up the entire tourist destination. He/she tries to find out information about the attractions in the community, how to get there, hospitality services, and about the restaurants. Visitors consider all these items”, he says.

However, in order to make attractions appealing and to promote local economic development, it is necessary to improve management capacity. In the Brazilian model, the Federal Government, through ICMBio, offers to the private sector part of the services provided by the national parks. Those services are provided by concession agreements or authorization. “It is important to have a company operating a cluster of services in the park”, says Ricardo Soavinski, the president of ICMBio. “But it is always necessary that State manage the park as a whole, that is, it has always been publicly managed. It is not privatization of public services, but it is a concession agreement which grants specific services authorization and specific objectives that must be achieved”.

Besides preserving biodiversity and fomenting economic development through tourism, national parks must furthermore add value to the surrounding traditional communities. “There is no secret. Just supply good access and the ideal conditions, so that the private sector can work with the public sector and with the communities, in order to have a better income distribution”, says Thiago Beraldo. By visiting Zambia, He concluded that the quality of life of the population around South Luangwa Park was superior to people of other regions. “They have created a bubble of sustainable development in a very poor region of the country, just through the area conservation”, he remembers. “And, furthermore, there is the search for valorization and knowledge of that society as a whole”. These areas house a rich biodiversity, fantastic landscapes, serve an eco-systemic service for society, and many do not know about all these services”, says Ricardo Soavinski.

Zakouma National Park, Chad

The African potential has already started to be a reality

In an economic terms, many countries in Africa, especially in the Sub-Saharan region, have benefitted from strong growth in tourism in recent years. There is plenty of space for further growth. That is true because the global market share of Africa is still relatively modest, corresponding to 3% of global international receipst only and 5% of the global international arrivals, according to the data given by UNWTO. Although, tourism on the continent reached an annual average growth of between 2005 and 2013, according to the most up-to-date data. During the same period, arrivals have increased from 35 million in 2005 to reach 56 million in 2013.

Africa’s tourism receipts in 2013 reached US$ 34.2 billion dollars. However, the global market size of wildlife tourism has been estimated at 12 million trips annually and it is growing at a rate of 10% a year, that justifies the investment in national parks. There are over 60 national parks on the entire African continent larger than 100 thousand hectares. If they are well administered, these parks can create new jobs for the surrounding communities, making them, quite often, the main route for promoting development in a region.

Residents, who live in protected regions, can act as enterprisers in the tourist industry (hospitality, food services, or inbound tourist sevices) or suppliers of goods and services for that supply chain. Data as collected by UNWTO in 14 countries during 2015, shows that a typical wildlife observation excursion on the African continent is in average of 6 participants, which are 10 days in each location and they spend US$ 433 dollars per day.

Revenues from these 14 countries, in protected areas, have generated US$ 142 million dollars annually. One of these areas includes the southern circuit of Serengeti-Ngorongoro, in Tanzania, welcoming 300,000 tourists annually in an area of 300 km long between Arusha and Serengeti; these transactions are responsible for half the tourism revenues of the country. Along the circuit, there are about 3,500 boats and souvenir stands employing 7,000 salespersons and 21,000 craftspeople. An estimated 19% of this revenue goes to poor residents.

Annual Average Chart

Source: UNTWO

In Brazil, positive evaluations and space to grow

In Brazil, there are four national parks operating under concession agreements and, in general, highly rated for its number of visitors and good administration. The four parks are: Tijuca, in Rio de Janeiro; Iguaçu, in Foz do Iguaçu; Fernando de Noronha, in Pernambuco; and Serra dos Órgãos, in Rio de Janeiro. Almost half of the 8 million annual visitors visit Iguaçu and Tijuca Parks. The ICMBio targets, for the next four years, operating concession agreements in three new national parks: Brasília, Pau Brasil (in Bahia) and Chapada dos Veadeiros, in Goiânia.