On 15 January I was one of four keynote speakers at the online conference The Impacts of Covid on Conservation Worldwide , run by the Jaguar Rescue Foundation from Costa Rica. My presentation: ‘Building regenerative tourism in natural areas after Covid: impacts, lessons learnt and the way forward’ focussed on the impacts of Covid on tourism in Protected Areas, the PAs responses for far, and the way forward to build a better, more regenerative tourism as a way to build resilience after the pandemic.
It was a privilege to speak along a group of experts in the field of conservation: Dr Amy Dickman from Oxford University; Ben Brock, the Wildlife Crime Analyst from TRAFFIC, and Ignace Schops, the President of the EUROPARC Foundation, who each focused on a different aspect of conservation.
I mentioned the negative impacts on PAs such as the negative consequences for:
- conservation finances,
- management capacity, budgets and effectiveness
- tourism businesses and the livelihoods of communities
- progress made in equality and sustainable economic growth could be rolled back.
I did acknowledge that for many PAs worldwide the pandemic was, to put it blantly and to quote one of the DMOs Directors I have recently worked closely with (and have used his great slide), ‘a big slap in the face’.
However, I wanted to shift the conversation into looking at Covid as an opportunity because due to Covid the PAs:
- have become greener (less travel; better use of technology in management and promotion of PAs; new local products connected to the local communities’ values)
- used nature as a core product to improve wellbeing
- came up with many innovative management solutions
- improved human relationships: amongst community members & tourist-host relationships
- Covid has also showed us that Cooperation is key: getting together to rethink, reshape, re-evaluate they way PAs and tourism in PAs are run, managed and promoted.
The question now is ‘How solid and sustainable are these positive changes’ in governance structure, in decision-making process, in working with stakeholders, in PA management etc? Time will show if the changes made in 2020 will still be applied in 2021 and beyond.
For now, we have to remember that the only way forward, again, is to rethink, reshape, re-evaluate and regenerate tourism in PAs to be able to build more resilient communities. We need to go beyond sustainable tourism. I finished the presentation encouraging the audience to read more about the concept of the regenerative tourism , that will require a cultural and systematic shift to make the industry more resilient and better prepared for future shocks and instabilities such as the Covid-19 pandemic.