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Uses of and Impacts on Biodiversity

What you Can Do

International Tourism and Tour Operators




Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing sectors. Currently over 200 million people work in the industry, representing 11% of global GDP. The number of international tourists is expected to double by 2020, reaching around 1.5 billion arrivals- nearly half of these visiting Europe!

Over the last decade, nature and adventure travel has emerged as one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry. Much of this growth is taking place in biodiversity hotspots, areas harbouring many species unique to that region, where tourism represents both opportunities for and threats to biodiversity conservation.

In the UK, the striking beauty of the Lake District, dramatic cliffs of the North Devon Coast, rugged Welsh hills, and the wilderness of Scotland provide a diversity of landscapes and biodiversity. Additionally, gardens, parks, and historical sites in villages, towns and cities harbour biodiversity, forming part of the natural heritage of the UK.

These attractions contribute to making tourism one of the UK’s largest industries, worth around £75 million, and attracting over 180 million visitors in 2002.

Uses of and Impacts on Biodiversity

In England, two out of every three adults will visit the countryside each year, taking part in activities ranging from walking or cycling to sight-seeing and dining. During their visits, tourists benefit from biodiversity in many ways:

  • From the hills of Cumbria to the Yorkshire Moors, the Brecon Beacons to the Cornish coastline, the views and open spaces are also home to a host of species of plants and animals, many of which are unique to this part of the world. The British coastline is enjoyed by families, surfers and boaters alike – and is home to marine biodiversity, much of which we still know very little about!

  • Many of these natural sites are located in or near specially designated natural areas such as SSSIs or National Parks.

  • Many natural areas are responsible not only for nice views, but play a critical role in water purification and, influencing weather and climate. Wetlands where reeds and marsh marigold are found and many bird species feed and nest are especially important for water purification. Forests are home to wildlife and play a crucial role in regulating climate through carbon sequestration and providing a buffer against wind.

  • Forests and hillsides are a source of building materials, such as wood and aggregates, used in constructing hotels, roads and other facilities supporting tourism.

  • The countryside is also the source of most consumables such as food, drink and souvenirs which tourists buy.

In enjoying the products of biodiversity, the tourism industry impacts wildlife, plants and habitats. Damaging these natural resources is not only detrimental to the biodiversity of the world, but to the tourism industry itself. The industry’s complexity, with a large number of small and independent players engaged directly with tourism, or indirectly as suppliers and manufacturers of goods consumed by the industry, means that negative effects of tourism can also have far-reaching consequences for the wider economy.

What you Can Do

The success of tourism depends on a healthy and attractive environment, which businesses operating within the sector can contribute to. Some areas of action for the tourism industry are listed below.

Planning for Action
A Biodiversity Action Plan can help you decide on your conservation priorities, and how to manage and monitor activities. The Earthwatch publication Business & Biodiversity- Site Biodiversity Action Plans provides a general framework that companies can follow to identify impacts, plan for action, and contact other organisations that can help with biodiversity expertise. By adopting a planned approach you will be able to monitor and track your progress, and gain recognition for your actions.

Enhancing biodiversity on your site
Whether you run a small bed and breakfast or a large recreational facility such as a campground or golf course, your business can help encourage biodiversity by planting trees, shrubs, flowers or grasses; developing and maintaining ponds or wetlands; or erecting bird or owl boxes in your grounds. For further information click here.

Reviewing your purchasing strategy
Every business consumes products and services supplied by other businesses. By managing what you buy, how you use products and how you dispose of waste you can improve your own, and other companies biodiversity performance. For further information click here.

Managing your environmental impacts
Reviewing and managing your overall environmental performance also benefits biodiversity and can help reduce your costs. For instance, the energy used to heat and light accommodation will come from the power generation industry. Conserving energy reduces CO2 emissions, considered responsible for increased rates of climate change, which is having adverse impacts on species, habitats and ecosystems. Recycling and waste reduction reduces the amount of landfill and potentially increases the amount of space, which can be left for natural habitat conservation.

Awareness Raising
Tourism providers will be asked to recommend or refer visitors to other attractions. Providing for services or goods that contribute positively to biodiversity conservation can bring visitors closer to wildlife. You can widen the potential for low impact tourism, and help people to make links between their own environment, lives and communities. Many people’s interests in wildlife watching and conservation arise as a direct result of the experience they receive from recreational activities and can lead them to begin acting responsibly in respect of the environment as well as coming back for more of the experience.

Working with others
For many smaller tourism businesses linking up with forums such as the Tourism and Environment Forum or local sustainable business forums can be a good way to spread the word about what you are doing and attract new customers. Such networks are also valuable sources of current information about new opportunities, grants, trends and regulations.

Promoting your biodiversity actions
Informing visitors of your own biodiversity activities can directly benefit your business by increasing customers and revenues. For many tourism organisations, one way to do this is through linking with an award scheme, such as the Green Tourism Award. Your business may receive Earthwatch Project Coral Reefs of the Virgin Islandsacknowledgement that could be of promotional use. Some biodiversity initiatives could also qualify for funding.

International Tourism and Tour Operators

Tourism is a global business and tour operators in the UK play a central role in the tourism industry, acting as intermediates between tourists and tourism service suppliers in different countries. These ‘holiday packages’ and tourism activities can impact on biodiversity directly through activities such as, resource consumption, pollution and generation of wastes in the host countries.

Integrating sustainability into the tour operators’ policies can help reduce these environmental impacts, strengthen a tour operator’s brand value and reputation with consumers, build better relationships with staff and local communities which in turn limits the risk of conflicts and increases shareholder value. Sustainability can be integrated in many ways which The Tour Operators' Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development has broken it down into 5 key areas:

• Internal Management: The company itself can account for it’s management and environmental policies. Office supplies, heating etc could be recycled and economical. Site landholdings can be managed to improve the biodiversity, see Site Biodiversity Action Plans.
• Product development and management: Tours and holiday packages can be selected and promoted that minimise environmental, economic and social impacts
• Contracting with suppliers: Suppliers in different countries could be asked provide a description of their operational performance and management systems in order to co-align their environmental policies with that of the companies
• Customer relations: Providing customers with information on responsible behaviour and sustainability issues at their destinations will reduce their impacts on biodiversity.
• Relations with Destinations: Incorporating stakeholders in destination locations can help to address specific biodiversity locally.

The Tour Operators' Initiative was created in 2000 by a small group of tour operators from different parts of the world. The initiative is voluntary, non-profit and open to all tour operators. Members are committed to integrating sustainability into their business practices and working together to educate each other on methods and practices compatible with sustainable development.


Good biodiversity management is good business for tourism companies. Through contributing to the conservation of biodiversity, tourism companies can improve the quality of the service or product provided, enhance their reputation, increase recognition, publicise themselves, save on costs and increase their income. Significantly, you can contribute towards making tourism sustainable and guaranteeing the livelihoods of people who work within or benefit from the tourism industry now and in the future.

Case Studies

Click here to see case studies from the tourism sector


The Green Tourism Business Scheme is an accreditation scheme for tourism businesses relating to environmental good practice.

The English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency are working together with a view to developing a national sustainable tourism accreditation scheme.

David Bellamy Awards are awards to parks, which are making real achievements in protecting the UK environment.

The British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award recognises and encourages sustainable tourism initiatives across the globe.

Green Globe 21 is a sustainable travel and tourism benchmark and certification program, for use by consumers, companies and communities.


Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism development - Sectretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity

Tourism and Biodiversity Mapping UNEP Report. Report on tourism and biodiversity highlighting threats and opportunities for the world’s largest global industry.

Earthwatch’s Sustainable Tourism leaflet available in publications here.

The Committed to Green Foundation provides information about environmental aspects of sports. The Foundation has published guidelines for organising sports and golf events in environmentally responsible ways.

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism provides research and resources on responsible tourism.

The Tourism and Environment Forum is a partnership of public and private organisations set up to promote sustainable tourism in Scotland. They recognise that the environment is the Scottish tourism industry's main asset and are working to ensure that both tourism and the environment are well managed.

The Green Audit Kit is a self-help kit for small tourism enterprises that contains tried and tested practical ideas to help tourism businesses benefit from operating their businesses in a sustainable manner.

Green Hotels Association brings together hotels interested in environmental issues.

Star UK provides statistics and research on tourism.

English Nature Tourism Sector Analysis explains the ways in which tourism, recreation and access businesses and industry impact on nature conservation.

The International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI) promotes the benefits of environmental management as an integral part of running a successful, efficient hotel business.

The Tour Operators' Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development develops and implements tools or experience to design and conduct tours that minimise negative environmental, social and economic impacts while optimising benefits.

Photo Credit: Will Wain/Bryn Maen Bed and Breakfast, Ir Booth - Coral Reefs


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