Ecotourism and Protected areas

According to the UNWTO's definition, ecotourism refers to forms of tourism which have the following characteristics:

  1. All nature-based forms of tourism in which the main motivation of the tourists is the observation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas.
  2. It contains educational and interpretation features.
  3. It is generally, but not exclusively organised by specialised tour operators for small groups. Service provider partners at the destinations tend to be small, locally owned businesses.
  4. It minimises negative impacts upon the natural and socio-cultural environment.
  5. It supports the maintenance of natural areas which are used as ecotourism attractions by:
  • Generating economic benefits for host communities, organisations and authorities managing natural areas with conservation purposes;
  • Providing alternative employment and income opportunities for local communities;
  • Increasing awareness towards the conservation of natural and cultural assets, both among locals and tourists.

Source: The British Ecotourism Market, UNWTO 2002

UNWTO has been involved in the field of ecotourism since the early 1990s and developed a set of guidelines focusing on the strong link between protected area and tourism, with the aim of ensuring that tourism contributes to the purposes of protected areas and does not undermine them.

In the framework of the UN-declared International Year of Ecotourism (IYE) 2002, UNWTO undertook a wide range of activities, including the organization of regional conferences and the World Ecotourism Summit, and published guidelines and methodologies for ecotourism development and market studies, as well as supported regional and national activities.

At the request of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Tourism Organization prepared a report on the activities undertaken by States and major international organizations in the framework of the International Year of Ecotourism. Also UNWTO prepared a series of market reports to increase the knowledge of seven important countries considered “Ecotourism generating markets”.

The UNGA resolution “Promotion of ecotourism for poverty eradication and environment protection”

In 2012, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the resolution A/C.2/67/L.30/Rev.1 on the “Promotion of ecotourism for poverty eradication and environment protection” (available in English, French and Spanish). The resolution, facilitated by Morocco and sponsored by a record 105 delegations, draws on the recommendations contained in a report prepared by UNWTO on the basis of responses from 48 Member States which, in a notable departure from its normal practice, was welcomed by the UN General Assembly (download the UNWTO press release). This report builds on a UN resolution of 2010 on the same subject, and reflects developments since then, namely the inclusion for the first time of tourism in the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20) and the results of the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity.

Recognizing that ecotourism, within the framework of sustainable tourism, is a cross-cutting activity able to promote job creation and education, the resolution highlights its potential to improve livelihoods in local communities, achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as contribute to the sustainable development and protection of biodiversity by encouraging communities and tourists to preserve natural and cultural heritage. The text also underlines the importance of establishing national policies and investments for promoting ecotourism, and encourages governments to use it as a tool for poverty alleviation and environmental protection. It calls on international financial institutions and the UN system to provide adequate support for programs relating to ecotourism and on a strengthened partnerships for providing adequate capacity-building and training for people involved in the sector.

In 2014, a milestone resolution recognizing the contribution of sustainable tourism to poverty eradication, community development and the protection of biodiversity was adopted by consensus by the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution, Promotion of sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, for poverty eradication and environment protection (A/RES/69/233), available in EnglishFrenchRussian and Spanishsignificantly broader in scope than previous ones on the subject, builds on a 2012 UN resolution on ecotourism and draws on a report prepared by UNWTO. In line with UNWTO recommendations, it underlines the importance of appropriate national policies, guidelines and regulations for promoting sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, and encourages UN Member States and regional and international financial institutions to support sustainable tourism projects, enabling the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises, promoting cooperatives and facilitating access to inclusive financial services, including microcredit initiatives for the poor, local and indigenous communities.