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A. Economic Rationale for Nature and Heritage Tourism
B. Potential Markets for Nature and Heritage Tourism
C. Infrastructure Requirements for Nature and Heritage Tourism

Tourism, the largest sector in world economies, brings badly needed foreign exchange. It is lauded for its role in diversifying the economy, bolstering employment, spreading benefits to rural areas, encouraging the rational use of marginal lands, and promoting infrastructure projects that serve other sectors. But the traditional tropical-beach, leisure-vacation tourism has been criticized for fomenting visitation to enjoy natural resources inadequately defended from pollution, erosion, or overuse. Nature and heritage tourism differs from these typical “sun-sea-sand” offerings. It draws tourists who are interested in helping to preserve the natural beauty of the sites they visit and who are less likely to do damage. It provides resources for the conservation of important areas and the economic benefit of surrounding communities. It can even enhance local cultural integrity, since it can make an area a focus for fostering local knowledge, skills, and lifestyles to perpetuate traditional values among indigenous people and to educate outsiders about their culture.

Several sites in the Caribbean islands have been singled out as outstanding natural attractions (e.g., Pitons and Sulphur Springs in Saint Lucia, Brimstone Hill Fortress in St. Kitts). Although they have not been developed and marketed as nature and heritage sites, they attract thousands of visitors and locals alike. Still, critics claim that some travel to natural areas has contributed to the destruction of trails, the build-up of algae in water supplies because of improper waste disposal, the disruption of wild life migrations, and the depletion of natural resources from hunting and plant collection. Thus, nature and heritage attractions should be planned for both visitation and conservation.

A planned approach to nature and heritage tourism carefully assesses the impacts and benefits before the development of a project begins. The Tourism Master Plan for St Kitts and Nevis (1993), prepared by the Organization of American States in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Tourism of St. Kitts and Nevis, is a systematic analysis of the nature and heritage tourism potential. Recommendations included in the Plan provide the grounds for the development of a competitive and stable tourism-oriented economy.

A. Economic Rationale for Nature and Heritage Tourism

The value of the nature and heritage tourism market in developing countries is estimated to be in the range of US$5 to $10 billion a year.

Evidence suggests that the number of nature and heritage tourists is growing by around 20 percent per year. It is estimated that they account for approximately 7 percent of all international travel expenditures.

Conservation is enhanced when private-sector investors and host governments are convinced that there is an economic rationale for establishing protected areas. It has been estimated that in a national park in Kenya, each lion is worth US$27,000 per year and each elephant herd US$610,000 in terms of visitor revenues per year. Also, each hectare of the park is estimated to yield US$40 per year, which is 50 times more than the net profits expected from the land were it used agriculturally¹.

1Elizabeth Boo, Ecotourism; Potentials and Pitfalls, Washington, D.C., World Wildlife Fund and the Conservation Foundation, 1990.
The economic rewards of conventional and nature tourism are also subject to debate. Tourism can no longer be separated from other man-made disruptions of the environment, such as mining and deforestation. Nevertheless, it is not tourism, but poorly planned tourism, that can be blamed for negative effects. Properly planned and administered nature and heritage tourism may make it possible to manage the tourism flow in order to maximize the benefits and limit the negative impacts.

B. Potential Markets for Nature and Heritage Tourism

While there are no exact statistics to indicate the size of the market or the numbers or expenditures of nature-based tourists, because of the lingering disagreement regarding the definition of the market, preliminary indications as to the size of the U.S. market can be made:

· Studies of U.S. tour operators and international tourists show that special-interest travel is booming and that the most popular special-interest tours are nature-oriented outdoor activities.

· Tour operators report that four to six million people from the United States travel overseas for nature-related trips each year.

· An environmental journal, Buzzworm, estimated in 1989 that more than three million people would pay several thousand dollars apiece in search of an exotic natural and cultural adventure. It has also been estimated that approximately seven million tourists are willing to pay between US$2,000 and US$3,000 for a nature-related tour.

· Approximately thirty million people in the United States either belong to an environmental organization or have demonstrated an active interest in environmental protection.

· A 1991 study of older adults conducted by the U.S. National Tour Association found that 94 percent of the population of North America over 50 years of age is concerned about the environment. Sixty percent would be more likely to take an escorted tour if it were environmentally safe, and one in three would pay an additional charge for such a tour. Among all the survey participants, escorted travelers were the most interested in environmentally safe tours (68 percent) and were willing to pay more for those tours (41 percent).

The specialized travel industry serving the ecotourism market is growing. Reportedly, there were 500 operators in 1990 (although this may be exaggerated; some operators may claim to be environmentally conscious because of the market’s growing popularity).

Although the industry was expected to grow between 20 and 25 percent in the 1990s, several major nature tourism operators reported a decrease in bookings in 1993, citing general economic malaise as the reason for the drop. There has been some consolidation of the specialized travel industry, evidenced by several mergers and bankruptcies. Whether the ecotourism segment of the travel industry is recession-resilient is still to be determined.

C. Infrastructure Requirements for Nature and Heritage Tourism

The investment needs for nature and heritage tourism development differ from those of traditional tourism hotel development. There may be a greater need to improve access to the attraction site or facility, and for a mode of development that does not interfere with sensitive habitats or historic areas.

From the standpoint of financing, nature and heritage tourism projects also have very different needs. The development or, more often, the maintenance of the flora, fauna and other elements of purely biophysical environments such as nature (marine or terrestrial) parks, wildlife sanctuaries, or wetlands must be financed, as must physical structures to be used by day or stayover visitors. Nature tourism projects usually require the acquisition of more land than do other tourism projects - not only the immediate vicinity, but the surrounding area that makes up the “view scape” and, in the case of a unique fauna site, the area that defines the habitat. Unless the project is located on the border of a national park or other natural feature, land acquisition will be a significant component of the project’s financing.

Heritage tourism projects usually consist of the restoration or conservation of man-made structures such as military forts or historic houses; cultural projects introduce the visitor to indigenous ways of life or special celebrations. Historic structures are often owned by national governments; restoring them can require significant investment. Where the government can entrust such projects to an NGO or entrepreneur, while overseeing the work, the interests of both parties can be balanced.

In addition to access, water supply, lodging, food services, and public restrooms, nature and heritage sites typically require distinctive visitor facilities. These can also be costly. Even though lodgings can be on a much smaller scale and less luxurious than traditional developments, since such attractions usually appeal to small parties or excursion groups, the lower cost of construction may be outweighed by the cost of more environmentally friendly power and sanitary equipment, building materials and techniques (plus the cost of transporting them to remote June 8, 1995 locations), and the premium paid for lower economies of scale.

While tourism attractions in national parks or in wilderness areas might not require the same level of infrastructure as a resort development, there is an irreducible amount.

For example, access to some remote jungle lodges may only be possible by plane, which would require some form of airport, terminal, navigational equipment, etc. The infrastructure required may lack supplementary justification from neighboring industrial or government welfare activities.

Caribbean governments may also need to evaluate their health-care offerings and disaster mitigation techniques: older tourists might avoid areas without sufficient medical care, and in the same vein, a single severe hurricane, volcano, or earthquake that endangers tourists’ lives is very bad advertising.

As tourist traffic increases, the requirements for infrastructure directly related to tourism development also increase. Investment in infrastructure can take different forms. These may include:

· Integrated resort complexes, where the internal infrastructure - roads, water supply, sewage, drainage, electric power distribution, telecommunications, beach development, etc. - is built according to a master plan and connected where necessary with the general infrastructure of the region.

· Tourism zones, where the upgrading of the local infrastructure is regarded as a prerequisite for the private sector to invest in tourism projects.

Even without tourism, many areas are in need of investment in roads, ports, airports, electricity, water supply, sewage, telecommunications, and other services. The additional investment costs necessitated by the advent of the visitor trade must be identified, and it is important to ensure that implementation is done in a coordinated fashion.

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