Why Nature based tourism is important

Nature based tourism (NBT) plays an important role in sustainable development, and can support economic growth, biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. Nature-based tourism can be a significant source of income for local communities and rural households, who often live in marginal areas with few pathways out of poverty. Proponents argue that where local communities benefit from NBT, that they are more likely to conserve wildlife and nature (for example poachers who become employed as tour guides). However, local communities near protected areas sometimes carry a large share of the costs of protected areas in the form of restricted access to land and natural resources and crop damage due to raiding wildlife.

The tourism sector is expected to grow by 3.6% in 2017 and 3.9% per year globally over the next 10 years, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. In 2018, travel and tourism contributed USD8.8 trillion, or 10.4%, to global GDP, and the industry supported one in 10 jobs (319 million) across the world. In developing countries that depend on their natural capital assets, and figures for nature-based tourism can be substantial:

  • Travel and tourism in Kenya contributes 10.5% of GDP, and provides nearly 550,000 jobs. Wildlife tourism “not only generates greater economic growth than other forms of tourism, but also has potential to do more to address poverty challenges” because wildlife tourism is more pro-poor, due to its closer linkages with the rural economy.
  • In Tanzania nature-based tourism accounts for about 10% of GDP, while in Namibia, 19% of all employment (direct and indirect) has been attributed to nature-based tourism.

World Bank Group initiatives on NBT

Since 2015 the World Bank has ramped up efforts and reengaged in tourism through new initiatives due to a growing demand from countries to alleviate poverty through jobs and growth, while also protecting wildlife and conserving ecosystems. However, the relationship between nature-based tourism and poverty reduction is not straightforward. This is because:

  • Local communities near protected areas sometimes carry a large share of the costs of protected areas in the form of restricted access to land and natural resources and crop damage due to raiding wildlife.
  • There is often a mismatch between the high-skill labour-related demands of the tourism industry and skills levels within local communities.
  • In rural areas where may be few businesses that can adequately provide adequate product and services to support the tourism sector (e.g. with food, drink, transport, craft and décor), and so these are sourced from urban centres, or are imported.
  • Local people are not always the owners of tourism businesses, and so business profits are retained by non-national owners or by national investors, who are already affluent and highly skilled.

Within the World Bank, the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice (ENR-GP) helps countries harness the potential of nature-based tourism through integrated landscape approaches that better manage multiple land-use options and layer revenue streams for both governments and communities. ENR’s portfolio includes projects that support biodiversity conservation, strengthen protected area management and tackle wildlife poaching, while incorporating carefully designed private-sector concessions and local benefit-sharing arrangements. ENR supports developing countries as they create an attractive space to embed all forms of tourism—cultural, religious, gastronomic—extending its impact beyond nature-based tourism. Global Wildlife Program (GWP) is led by the World Bank and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and has several projects with tourism components. The GWP works across 19 countries in Asia and Africa to support actions on the ground to improve wildlife and protected area management, enhance community livelihood benefits, strengthen law enforcement and reduce demand.

“There are a lot of entry points and many small tourism components in projects, but most importantly . . . there are opportunities and the potential to do a lot more in nature-based tourism,” said World Bank Lead Economist Urvashi Narain.

“We need to find creative solutions to protect wildlife and build economic opportunities for local communities,” said the GWP’s Program Manager, Claudia Sobrevila. “This is why the Bank is in it. At the end of the day, it is about poverty alleviation.”

“Nature-based tourism can be an effective tool to promote rural development,” says Mark Lundell, World Bank Country Director for Mozambique, the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles

A portfolio review in 2017 identified nearly 25 World Bank projects, totalling over USD 800 million, with a nature-based tourism component or activity. An additional seven projects with investments of more than USD 115 million are in the pipeline. The World Bank Group supports interventions that strengthen the linkages between nature-based tourism and poverty reduction. Three main components are emphasised:

  • Protect the assets: The natural assets underlying the nature-based tourism sector need to be well managed to ensure that they are maintained. Revenues will be short-lived if the tourism venture exceeds the carrying capacity of the natural ecosystems resulting in natural resource degradation.
  • Grow the business: The natural site must attract a sufficient number of visitors and generate sufficient revenues to be economically viable and attractive to the private sector.
  • Share the benefits: Local communities must benefit directly from the tourism activity be it through jobs and other economic opportunities, revenue-sharing arrangements, or the targeted provision of public goods (schools, roads, clinics, for example).

A snapshot of WBG projects incorporating NBT elements are summarised in the table below.

Project Title Total Funding (USD millions) Tourism % of the project 1. Protected area management 2. Enabling policy environment 3. Tourism support 4. Community engagement 5. Partnerships Cultural and heritage conservation
Mozambique - Mozbio $46 100%


Tanzania-REGROW $150 100%



Botswana HWC $6 100%





Brazil FUNBIO- Marine PA $18 100%






Tunisia - Ecotourism and Conservation of Desert Biodiversity Project $4 100%




Sri Lanka Ecosystem $45 100%


Benin-Cross-Border Tourism and Competitiveness Project $50 100%



Argentina - Rural Corridors and Biodiversity $6 73%




South Africa -iSimangaliso $9 64%




Belize - Marine Conservation $6 56%




India -ICZM $222 52%



Jordon-Badia Ecosystem and Livelihood Project $3 51%






Zimbabwe-Hwange $6 40%




Benin-Support to Protected Areas (PA) Management Project $7 31%





Zambia-ZIFL-P $25 22%





Regional - Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Program $6 15%






Malawi-Shire Valley $166 4%



International Agreements

Tourism, and nature-based tourism in particular, can contribute directly to the objectives of global international agreements, including from the United Nations, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), UNESCO and UNWTO.

In 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The agenda established a global framework to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and remedy climate change. Building on the Millennium Development Goals, 17 SGS and 169 associated targets were agreed. Tourism is included within the targets for Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth; Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production, and Goal 14 on life below water. However, tourism has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to all of the goals (see Table 4).

Table 4: Sustainable Development Goals and their relevance to tourism

Goal Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) How tourism has an impact
Goal 1

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End poverty in all forms everywhere Tourism fosters economic growth and development & provides income through employment, promoting entrepreneurship & empowering disadvantaged groups
Goal 2

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End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture Tourism can spur agricultural productivity by promoting the production, use and sale of local produce and its full integration into the tourism value chain
Goal 3

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Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages Tourism’s contribution to economic growth can have a knock-on effect on health and well-being. Tourism philanthropy can also play a role here; as can the benefits of tourism to the health of the tourist
Goal 4

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Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all Tourism can provide incentives to invest in education and vocational training as the sector requires specific skills
Goal 5

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Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Tourism can empower women in many ways, especially jobs and other income-generating opportunities
Goal 6

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Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Tourism can play a role in achieving water access and security, as well as hygiene and sanitation for all
Goal 7

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Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all Tourism can accelerate the shift towards renewable energy, as well as providing information on renewable energies to communities
Goal 8

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Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all Tourism is one of the driving forces of global economic growth and provides access to decent work opportunities
Goal 9

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Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation Tourism development relies on good public and private infrastructure and an innovative environment. Can incentivize government to upgrade infrastructure.
Goal 10

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Reduce inequality within and among countries Tourism can be a powerful tool for community development and reduce inequalities if it engages local populations. Is an effective means for developing countries to participate in the global economy
Goal 11

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Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable Tourism has potential to advance urban infrastructure and universal accessibility, promote regeneration of areas in decay and preserve cultural and natural heritage
Goal 12

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Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns Tourism can develop resource efficient initiatives that result in enhanced economic, social and environmental outcomes
Goal 13

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Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts By lowering energy consumption and shifting to renewable energy sources tourism can help tackle climate change
Goal 14

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Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development Coastal and marine tourism rely on intact and healthy marine ecosystems, which require them to be conserved
Goal 15

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Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss Tourism can play a role in conserving biodiversity through reducing waste and consumption, conserving native fauna and flora and awareness-raising activities
Goal 16

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Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels Tourism can foster multicultural and inter-faith tolerance and understanding
Goal 17

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Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development Due to cross-sectoral nature tourism can strengthen public-private partnerships and engage multiple stakeholders

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Promotion of sustainable tourism, recognizing the contribution of sustainable tourism to poverty eradication, community development, and the protection of biodiversity. The resolution calls on the UN to promote sustainable tourism, and ecotourism, as a tool for achieving global development goals.

In relation to the CBD, NBT contributes to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, and the plan’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets that relate to conservation (Targets 11 and 12), community development (Target 18) and public awareness (Target 1). At the 2014 the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, Decision XII/11 on Biodiversity and Tourism Development was adopted that invited parties to provide very specific support to NBT, and ‘‘ . . . build the capacity of national and subnational park and protected area agencies, . . . to engage in partnerships with the tourism industry to contribute financially and technically to the establishment, operations and maintenance of protected areas through appropriate tools such as concessions, public-private partnerships . . .’’ The report to the 2018 CBD Conference of the Parties on implementation of this and other tourism decisions, Mainstreaming biodiversity into tourism development, demonstrates considerable efforts to realize the agreement internationally.

The NBT sector also contributes to the Muscat Declaration on Tourism and Culture from UNWTO and UNESCO, which includes commitments to create “ . . . a clear vision and defined frameworks at local, national, regional and international level that foster the coordination and cooperation between tourism and culture stakeholders from public and private sector as well as local communities” and also to integrate “natural and cultural heritage policies and management in sustainable tourism development”.