Supporting Biodiversity – Take the Benefit of Tourism into Account!


Iwand, Wolf M.


TUI GROUP Environmental Management

Karl-Wiechert Allee 23, D-30625 Hannover, Germany

Tel: 0511-567-1011; Fax: 0511-567-1019



Today international tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the world economy. According to various forecasts, tourism will become the world's most significant economic activity within the next decade. It is by this dynamic that mass tourism is discussed to be responsible for worldwide environmental pollution, for the loss of species, flora, fauna and landscape diversity and the degradation of coral reefs and the marine environment in general.

In 1990, TUI, the European market leader in organized package holidays, created voluntarily as the world's first tour operator a Corporate Department of Environment to establish a feasible management system in order to reduce the impact of several million clients per year on the environment in holiday regions. Since 1990, we are forcing our contracting partners - destination authorities, tourism boards, hoteliers, transport companies - around the world, to implement procedures to reduce or to avoid waste and sewage, over-consumption of water, energy, land and beaches. We had not opted for the so-called "soft tourism" or "eco-tourism" for the politically correct, and happy few. We opted for an integrated systematic approach of environmental care into the business processes as monitoring, product planning, purchasing, training, education, information to reduce the environmental impact of tourism. The common denominator in our company today is: "Quality Management" - and this includes environmental quality standards, environmental quality controls and environmental quality assurance. Whilst so far concentrating on more or less technical aspects as sewage disposal, waste deposits and solar energy, we find out today a new key issue: The capital asset of tourism that is the beauty and attraction of nature, the diversity of fauna, flora, habitat and landscape, and particularly the coral reefs, e.g. in the Red Sea, the Maldives Islands, East Africa, the Caribbean etc.

Sun-and-Beach-Tourism is the fastest growing economic sector associated with coral reefs and is set to double in the near future. For example, one hundred million tourists visit the Caribbean each year, and SCUBA diving in the Caribbean alone is projected to generate $ 1,2 billion by the next year. On the other hand, the massive increase of scuba-diving and bathing tourism can cause nearly immediate detriment to entire coral reef ecosystems.

Coral reefs are the most spectacular and important of the earth´s tropical marine resources, and it is very much to the tourism industry's own vital interest to support the aims of a global Nature Conservation strategy and the protection of coral reefs! This is not the old platitude about the branch we are perched on which, purportedly, nobody is about to saw off; it is the in-sight that we must handle our capital investment, capital wealth, our treasures, values, assets more economically and profitably.

Tourism does not need just environmental officers, but asset managers or investment consultants who secure this capital and make more of it and prevent losses at all costs. We commit our company to support the protection of biodiversity. We increase our professional competence on how to make good use of nature, but to avoid it be abused by accepting and adopting limits, by codes of best practice, by cooperation with parties involved, e.g. local NGOs, experts, scientists etc.

What about funding the "Strategy"? So far, we do not have experienced financial instruments as eco pricing, eco taxes, certificates or debt-for-nature-swaps. There is a brutal price battle on the tourism market. The profit margin averages around only 1 %. Eco-Sponsoring is done only for very small scale projects as reforestation or protection of endangered species. Our real "funding" is by investing year after year into a persistent process of growing eco-efficiency to avoid the loss of biodiversity. At the same time, all our environmental activities do contribute by raising the consumer's awareness and aiming on the consumer's willingness to pay for the value of nature! Because this is the real gate-keeper of funding biodiversity.

After all there is one recommendation: Take the ecological benefit potential of tourism into account! There is no other economic sector which depends so much on the value and diversity of nature and in ecological comparison to most other industries (agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, raw material, oil, chemicals, energy and traffic) sustainable tourism development safe-guards biodiversity whilst creating necessary economic development.

At a WTO Asian-Pacific Minister Conference, at Malé, the President of the Maldives Islands presented a calculation which gives much food for thought. At the fish market on the Maldives, a fisherman gets about 32 U.S. dollars for a shark; as an attraction for scuba-diving tourists – in the underwater area of Ari Atoll, under protection since 1995 – a shark brings about 33,500 U.S. dollars in revenues per year to the Maldives. A thousand times as much in one year! One shark! A group of sharks living there thus can be calculated to amount to about three quarters of a million U.S. dollars per year to the Maldives treasury. Isn’t this a brilliant example for the economic value of coral reefs?

The common denominator with tourism becomes possible through the economic insight of „protection by use"! Beyond the stage of dialogue, co-operation and partnership can be realised. Co-operation with the „right" experts and the „right" selection of steps for sustainable use of coral reefs. In my view „Protection through sustainable use" is a highly significant concept for the tourist industry and conservationists. The way to get there could be called public-private partnership: If nature conservationists and marine biologists join forces with tourism organizations then organized, responsible tourism might be the vanguard of sustainable development in many countries and support the lasting existence of coral reefs around the world.