Tourists can help protect wild places

Part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef as seen from the air.

When President Barack Obama told a Brisbane audience on the weekend that he wanted his daughters to be able to visit the Great Barrier Reef - he was sending a message to Australian politicians and may have also been taking a practical step to help the reef.

A report released at the World Parks Congress in Sydney shows that sustainable tourism to protected areas can be critical to their survival.

"Tourism in protected areas can be a strong positive force - increasing a sense of stewardship and revenues that are vital for long-term protection," said Yu-Fai Leung, the chief editor of the report Tourism and Visitor Management in Protected Areas: Guidelines for Sustainability.

In Africa, for instance, the private eco-tourism business Wilderness Safaris pays annual concession fees for its tourism camps, which in turn contributes to the management of wilderness parks.

At the same time, those countries where visits to parks and protected areas have dropped - including in Canada, Japan and the US - national parks have experienced reduced political support and funding.

Protected areas face a number of challenges, including climate change and the illegal wildlife trade. But if they are well managed, revenue from tourists - gathered from entrance fees, guided tours, accommodation and concessions - can be invested in conservation, the report argues.

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