Developing world has most tourism biodiversity

But collection of data still a challenge for analysts

Port of Spain, Trinidad – Small island developing states are one of the four categories of developing countries that also contain the world’s biodiversity hotspots. 

These are geographically spread over Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, with 51 states identified as qualifying by the United Nations. 

These states – as well as Africa, the least developed countries and landlocked developing countries – are places where global diversity is in danger, said Patrick Watson of the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago. He was referring to a report he and colleague Sonja S. Teelucksingh had put together. 

“Tourism plays an extremely important part in the economic life of most small island developing states and, due to geographical advantage, marine and coastal habitats play a particularly important role,” he told delegates during this year’s Sustainable Tourism Conference. 

Mr. Watson talked delegates through a paper that used a special estimator to investigate a tourism demand function in small island developing states in which marine and terrestrial biodiversity play a key role, in addition to the traditional economic and price variables. 

He said biodiversity was a crucial component of local livelihoods, with marine and costal environments contributing significantly to food security and income through capture fisheries and eco-tourism. Any change in biodiversity affected wellbeing by disrupting flow of these services, and this could be measured by the marginal impact of biodiversity changes on those industries. 

“It is therefore of great interest to investigate empirically the linkages between biodiversity and tourism demand, in order to assess the impact that biodiversity has on tourism activity,” he said. 

Vulnerability in a world economy resulted from a dependence on international trade that is the absorption of exports and the source of imports and the small island states were known to be economically and environmentally vulnerable. 

Much research had been done on the impacts of climate change and sea level rise, identifying small populations with high densities concentrated in coastal zones meant that ecosystems were fragile and existed in a delicate balance between “highly coupled terrestrial and marine ecosystems”, he said, quoting a previous study. 

But few studies had focussed on the importance and significance of tourism to these economies. 

Even where these studies existed, there was a tendency to utilise only the arrivals as the key figure, or alternatively expenditure per capita, but this data was not always available. 

“Though the types of explanatory variables included in models of tourism demand may vary widely, there have been few attempts to include biodiversity-related factors,” Mr. Watson said. 


Biodiversity and economics 

He said incomplete data sets made it challenging to analyse tourism choice and even more so for the role of biodiversity therein. However, what data could be analysed, which included environmental variables, did indicate that biodiversity did add significantly to an explanation of tourism demand. 

“Policies aiming at protection of the biodiversity stock will positively impact tourism arrivals,” he said. “Deterioration of the marine protected areas by one per cent, the terrestrial protected areas by one per cent and the key biodiversity sites by one site, respectively, will result in a fall of 5.6 per cent, 2.5 per cent and 8.6 per cent in tourist arrivals. 

“This is not at all negligible for policy-making purposes.” 

In other words, he said, the cost of preventing the deterioration of environmental assets had a large impact on arrivals compared with traditional economic models, which was an important empirical finding. Tourism arrivals, he said, were in a large part influenced by the richness of biodiversity that put tourism as an economic tool by which conservation and sustainable livelihoods could be generated. Lower levels of biodiversity had negative effects on small island states. 

“While there is a longstanding debate between the economy environment trade-off of the developing world, this is not an option in the context of small island tourist economies where biodiversity richness and economic well-being are found to be codependent,” he said. “Given that it has also been suggested that tourism levels may have a negative impact on biodiversity richness, it is clear that this is an uneasy but vital relationship that warrants closer study and monitoring in small island developing states.” 

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