Coastal and marine tourism is highly dependent on the quality of coastal and marine ecosystems to attract visitors—and it is extremely vulnerable to threats such as climate change and biodiversity loss. A healthy ocean is therefore the foundation upon which this sector is able to thrive. Ensuring the long-term health of the ocean is critical to support the local communities and economies which rely on the tourism industry.
A sustainable, regenerative and resilient coastal and marine tourism sector has the potential to be the foundation for a sustainable ocean economy—delivering on the vision for protection, production and prosperity—by stimulating new high quality economic opportunities for local communities, restoring the natural environment and revitalising culture and heritage.
The global pandemic has offered a circuit breaker to reflect on traditional forms of coastal and marine tourism that are no longer sustainable or viable and implement changes to reshape the sector. It has offered a unique and timely opportunity for bold action and political leadership.
In December 2020, the Ocean Panel launched the ‘Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy: A Vision for Protection, Production and Prosperity’ which included an ambitious goal for coastal and marine tourism, that by 2030 ‘Coastal and ocean-based tourism is sustainable, resilient, addresses climate change, reduces pollution, supports ecosystem regeneration and biodiversity conservation and invests in local jobs and communities’.
To inform efforts to achieve this goal, the Ocean Panel commissioned an unprecedented body of work dedicated to coastal and marine tourism:
- A Special Report titled ‘Opportunities for Transforming Coastal and Marine Tourism: Towards Sustainability, Regeneration and Resilience’ which considers the socio-economic argument for shifting to a more sustainable tourism model as part of recovery efforts from the global pandemic. The report provides a holistic assessment of the current state of coastal and marine tourism and draws on 32 case studies and examples from 23 countries to identify a set of priorities designed to help catalyse systemic change in destination-wide management through strategic investment and intervention by governments to support sustainable recovery from the global pandemic; and
- A series of over 40 Expert Perspectives from leading global tourism experts across industry, finance, IGOs, NGOs, academic and government which provide insights and inspiration for the future of coastal and marine tourism. (See below)
Opportunities for Action
The report identifies five foundational priorities that will help initiate destination-wide systemic change in coastal and marine tourism as part of recovery efforts:
- Focus tourism policies, plans, product development and marketing on attracting visitors, both domestic and international, who wish to engage genuinely with the communities and destinations they visit and support in the regeneration of the local environment, economy and community.
- Develop strategies to increase sustainable and resilient financing for conservation and restoration activities, including MPA management and enforcement, leveraging user fees and environmental taxes and also building long-term solvency through the establishment and endowment of conservation trust funds to ensure conservation funding is resilient to downturns in visitation.
- Collect, integrate and maintain data on sustainability indicators, including through national ocean and tourism accounts, to inform local authorities on how to manage operational externalities, target appropriate investment for sustainability requirements and move beyond an over-reliance on GDP.
- Undertake value chain analysis to align strategies and interventions to eliminate leakage and boost local economic prosperity, including through upskilling local communities across the tourism value chain.
- Utilise collaborative management arrangements and co-operative partnerships to promote engagement of all stakeholders in decision-making and share expertise and resources for sustainability.
In addition to these five priorities, the report identifies a suite of destination-wide and industry-specific opportunities for action, aligned with each pillar of action, to support more sustainable, regenerative and resilient coastal and marine tourism by 2030.
The report also provides a new comprehensive set of indicators incorporating the concepts of regeneration and resilience and tailored to the sustainability of coastal and marine tourism destinations to support governments to target appropriate investment for sustainability requirements and move beyond an over-reliance on GDP.
Examples of innovation and leadership exist in all regions, and across the spectrum of stakeholders engaged in coastal and marine tourism, but these are not yet happening on an industry-wide scale. A transformation of the coastal and marine tourism sector will require intervention and action from all tourism stakeholders, including the visitor, industry, community and government, as well as collaboration across the public and private sectors, development partners, communities and destinations.