E-mail: Akreveld@wwfnet.org

Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties

to the Convention on Biological Diversity

Nairobi, Kenya

May 15 — 26, 2000




Tourism, if undertaken sustainably, provides unique opportunities for enhancing the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, it can and often does have negative effects on biological and cultural diversity. Therefore a wide variety of responses are needed to tackle unsustainable tourism and to improve prospects for sustainable tourism. WWF calls upon COP5 to:
  • Clarify and promote the role of the CBD in promoting sustainable tourism
  • Request the Executive Secretary, in collaboration with other relevant agencies, to develop international guidelines on sustainable tourism in fragile ecosystems in response to the invitation of the 7th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development
  • Also request the Executive Secretary to explore the possibility of developing international certification standards for sustainable tourism and the establishment of an independent umbrella accreditation body to oversee those standards
  • Encourage Parties to develop and implement codes of conduct for sustainable tourism, especially in ecologically fragile areas, within the framework of the international guidelines to be developed by the Executive Secretary
  • Request Parties to identify, share and promote examples of best practice of sustainable tourism, and rectify unsustainable practices, in the lead up to 2002, the UN International Year of Ecotourism and Mountains
  • Urge Parties to establish policy and legal frameworks, to complement voluntary measures for the effective implementation of sustainable tourism and encourage parties to maintain and enforce existing national laws pertaining to all tourism development in their countries.
WWF urges Parties to:
  • Promote integrated and participatory approaches to land use planning to ensure that tourism development is in harmony with other land uses and with the carrying capacities of the respective ecosystems, building on existing efforts such as National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans and Local Agenda 21
  • Take action to reduce and, where possible, eliminate negative impacts of tourism on natural resources and processes, for example by carefully controlling and regulating tourism-related pollution and resource exploitation
  • Develop and implement tourism-related field projects which promote and illustrate key elements of sustainable tourism and inform policy development
  • Promote criteria and indicators for sustainable tourism and establish appropriate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms
  • Develop a methodology to define carrying capacity of tourism areas with a view to manage tourism within environmental, cultural and economic limits of acceptable change
  • Develop incentive measures for sustainable tourism, including, for example, enabling policy and economic instruments, sustainable financing mechanisms, and marketing opportunities
  • Promote education and capacity building at all levels for achieving sustainable tourism
  • Implement activities to raise tourist awareness about the positive and negative impacts of tourism, including the impact of illegal trade in endangered species, and excessive water and energy consumption
  • Encourage and support the full participation of local communities in the planning, operation and regulation of tourism and support their rights to maintain and control their cultural heritage, including historic and natural resources, and to receive an equitable share of the benefits from tourism
WWF calls upon the tourism industry to:
  • Recognise its responsibility for conservation and sustainable use of natural resources by committing to, and working within, principles and guidelines to achieve sustainable tourism development.
  • Support and participate in an open dialogue on the merits of certification and other voluntary initiatives as tools for sustainable tourism development, and implement those systems identified as credible
  • Integrate biodiversity conservation and sustainable use objectives within corporate policies and practices
  • Adhere to national laws and the provisions of international conventions
  • Improve performance in several areas including: environmental standards, enhancement of conservation, promotion of the active participation of local stakeholders, sharing of benefits from tourism with local stakeholders, provision of information to tourists, and quality marketing


The fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties will consider the issue of "approaches and practices for the sustainable use of biodiversity, including tourism", based on recommendation IV/7 of the fourth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA.4). The Annex to this recommendation provides a good assessment of the linkages between tourism and biodiversity, including the role of tourism as a means of sustainable use and the potential impacts of tourism on biodiversity. However, the proposed decisions for adoption by the COP need strengthening. For example in paragraph (d), Parties should be requested to undertake the enumerated actions and not simply to take them into account. Achieving a balance between biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing as advanced by the CBD necessitates that Parties pursue an adaptable and precautionary approach to tourism development. Tourism is no panacea for sustainable development and will not always be appropriate. Moreover, there is no rigid model for sustainable tourism applicable in all cases. As stated in the SBSTTA4 report (UNEP/CBD/COP/5/2), tourism is not only the largest and fastest growing industry in the world, but also holds immense potential to influence, either positively or negatively, the success of the CBD. Tourism is often dependent upon an unspoilt natural or unpolluted environment and therefore it can be a positive force for conservation and environmental protection while providing and maintaining prospects for economic and social development. However, if not properly managed, tourism can cause serious damage to the environment, threatening the very viability of the tourism industry. It is therefore essential that tourism continues to be a key thematic area under the CBD and that the CBD affirms its role and authority amongst other international processes and institutions, in dealing with tourism particularly with respect to its potential impact upon ecologically fragile areas. WWF is currently building its knowledge and capacity to address tourism issues. This paper outlines some of the valuable experiences and lessons learned that COP.5 should consider. It offers specific recommendations and examples of actions that governments, the tourism industry and the international community should consider to promote tourism in the run up to 2002, the UN International Year of Ecotourism and Mountains.  


WWF's vision of sustainable tourism and its associated infrastructure is that it should maintain biological and cultural diversity, use resources sustainably, and reduce over-consumption and waste. Sustainable nature-based tourism, or 'ecotourism', means "responsible travel to natural areas that is determined by local people, sustains their well being, and conserves the environment". In summary, WWF believes that sustainable tourism must be planned, managed and undertaken in a way that avoids damage to biodiversity, and should be environmentally sustainable, economically viable and socially equitable.



Tourism is frequently cited as a panacea for sustainable development, based in part on its perceived capacity to provide a means of sustainable resource use in ecologically fragile areas. However, relatively little hard evidence exists that confirms tourism as a complete solution. WWF believes that:
  • Where tourism development is pursued as a conservation strategy, it should remain within a suite of complementary activities including adequate planning, protection and education
  • There are areas where tourism is inappropriate as a conservation or development strategy
  • Sustainable use of biodiversity within the context of tourism should be non-consumptive.


WWF believes that tourism development should be approached cautiously and considered alongside a range of other alternative and complementary development strategies. Sustainable tourism should be:
  • Defined by the needs of particular destinations and communities, and existing tourism and environmental conditions rather than being predetermined as a set formula or a set of fixed principles
  • Integrated into broader regional priorities and not be allowed to co-opt the wider sustainable development agenda.
In certain areas that are particularly ecologically fragile, any form of tourism development may be inappropriate. Where tourism development may cause limited damage, however, this may be acceptable in certain circumstances. Tourism may be preferable, for example, where its potential negative impact is judged to be less than that which might result from alternative development strategies such as mining or logging, or where the development of part of an area for tourism allows the remainder to be conserved. In summary, an adaptable and precautionary, rather than a rigid, tourism-centric approach should determine the role of tourism within sustainable development and what WWF calls ecoregion-based conservation (ERBC).  


A range of tools is required for the achievement of sustainable tourism. These include policies and regulations, incentives, codes of conduct and guidelines and certification schemes. To be effective, these tools need to be combined and implemented in an integrated package or programme. WWF has acquired considerable experience in analysing and promoting two of these tools, namely: guidelines/codes of conduct and certification schemes.

Guidelines & Codes of Conduct

Codes of conduct and guidelines, adopted voluntarily by industry, can increase environmental awareness and responsibility amongst all parties involved in tourism. WWF has developed guidelines for sustainable tourism in two geographic areas, namely the Arctic region and the Mediterranean region. In Linking Tourism and Conservation in the Arctic, the WWF Arctic Programme Office has produced ten principles for Arctic tourism and codes of conduct for both Arctic tourists and tour operators. These have been produced through participatory multi-stakeholder processes involving both industry and local communities and have highlighted biodiversity conservation and socio-cultural objectives. WWF encourages COP.5 to consider these guidelines in responding to the invitation by CSD7 to contribute to the development of "international guidelines for activities related to sustainable tourism development in vulnerable terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems and habitats of major importance for biological diversity and protected areas, including fragile mountain ecosystems" (UNEP/CBD/COP/5/2). WWF believes that any guidelines for tourism in ecologically fragile areas should ensure that tourism:
  • Is compatible with, and supports, conservation of biodiversity
  • Uses natural resources in a sustainable way and minimise pollution and waste
  • Respects local cultures and historic/ scientific sites
  • Benefits local communities, and
  • Is informative and educational.
Also codes of conduct and guidelines should:
  • Include and achieve a balance between environmental, socio-economic and cultural aspects
  • Be developed for all parties involved in the tourism-environment relationship in particular for local authorities and industry
  • Emphasise aspects directly related to the stakeholder concerned
  • Be positive, specific, action-oriented and give clear messages
  • Be elaborated through consultation and partnerships (e.g. between the tourism industry and host communities)
WWF Guidelines and Codes seek a balance but they are voluntary. They can only be successful where promoted as part of a suite of tools for sustainable tourism development that complements voluntary self-regulation. WWF recognises the limitations of guidelines and codes in the absence of supporting verification systems. Here certification has an important role to play.


WWF has a wealth of experience in developing and promoting certification as a tool for sustainable management, both in the forestry and marine sectors, and is committed to exploring the feasibility of its application to the tourism sector. A recent WWF report shows that certification schemes can be an important tool in achieving sustainable tourism. A variety of certification schemes already exist and some are more comprehensive than others. WWF recommends the use of certification schemes where these are judged to be supportive of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. Key factors upon which a certification scheme’s worth should be judged are:
  • feasibility of the unit of certification (i.e., holiday, destination, company),
  • accessibility at all levels and to all stakeholders,
  • applicability at the local level,
  • focus on performance as well as process,
  • focus on environmental and socio-cultural criteria,
  • iterative revision of criteria,
  • multi-stakeholder input,
  • third party verification,
  • market presence, and
  • credibility amongst all stakeholders.
The success of certification will ultimately depend upon consumer demand for sustainable tourism. Performance criteria should be underpinned by complementary tools such as the forthcoming WWF/IHEI Hotel Benchmarking Tool. A possible means of distinguishing between effective and ineffective schemes could be through a neutral umbrella accreditation body comprising a full range of tourism stakeholders.

Planning, Regulation, Management, Education & Incentives

Guidelines and certification only provide part of the solution. It is critical for sustainable tourism development that both national governments and local authorities engage in regional and local land use planning which is supported by adequate regulation. Tourism must be considered within the broader range of development options and regulatory actions should be taken. It should be ascertained whether an area has adequate resources for tourism and the potential to fulfil development objectives. Where tourism development is pursued, new infrastructure should be subject to environmental impact assessment and building regulations, create minimum impact on the natural environment, and be subject to adequate monitoring. Particular attention should also be given to the regulation of waste and pollution, the use of freshwater resources, and the illegal trade in wildlife resources. Consultation and full participation of affected communities in the planning process is also an essential part of sustainable tourism development. The tourism industry, national governments and local authorities should promote and participate in a dialogue with them through appropriate mechanisms. Visitor management models, such as Limits to Acceptable Change (LAC) and Tourism Optimisation Management Model (TOMM), are also useful tools. Additionally, education and information programmes on sustainable tourism and on the conservation of natural environment can help reduce the impact of tourism. Incentives and disincentives also have a part to play in mitigating the negative effects of tourism. Tourism taxes, for example, can be used to reduce and offset environmental damage. Tax relief can also be used to encourage the adoption of clean technology and energy efficiency.

Industry & Solutions

In finding sustainable tourism solutions, industry must play a central role. As an important channel by which consumers procure holidays, tour operators, for example, have a strong influence over both the locality and type of tourism that is promoted. WWF believes that tour operators can take action to improve their performance in several areas, including:
  • environmental performance and the enhancement of conservation
  • consultation with, and promotion of the active participation of local destination stakeholders
  • provision for the sharing of benefits with local stakeholders
  • collaborative participation in long-term destination planning
  • provision of information to tourists, and
  • quality marketing
WWF believes that opportunities for it to work constructively with the tourism industry exist. WWF therefore seeks to open dialogues with companies committed to making their operations more responsible and sustainable. Additionally, the recent launch of the Tour Operator Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development by UNEP, UNESCO and the World Tourism Organisation presents an opportunity for tour operators to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable tourism. All tour operators should become members and participate fully in the proposed programme of activities.

Other On-Going WWF Activities on Tourism

Capacity Building Increasing demand from consumers for 'ecotourism' has been paralleled by growing interest on the part of governments, conservation groups and the tourism industry. Sustainable nature-based tourism or true 'ecotourism' must be sensitive to the environment in which it takes place, but the lack of clearly established guidelines, examples of best practice and a widely accepted methodology with which to define sustainable tourism are formidable obstacles. It is therefore essential that both the tourism industry and local communities have the capacity to implement sustainable tourism. If current trends continue, and 'ecotourism' remains little more than a marketing label, fragile ecosystems will suffer irrevocable degradation due to excessive numbers of visitors and poor management of natural resources. WWF Brazil, for example, has been actively involved in a capacity building project to develop community-based ecotourism. Broad participation, involving NGOs, grassroots organisations and governments is a key element in the project, with WWF co-ordinating its overall implementation. The main objective has been to propose, test and refine a training methodology that can be used to develop and implement community-based ecotourism. The methodology focuses on concrete issues such as determining the carrying capacity of an area, developing infrastructure that does not lead to environmental degradation, using alternative sources of energy and training local communities to deliver high-quality services. A prototype training manual has also been developed. In line with the SBSTTA.4 recommendation on the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in sustainable tourism development (SBSTTA IV/7/d/iv), WWF-UK is currently collaborating with a specialist ecotour operator to develop best practice ecotours to a number of field projects in Africa and Asia. These will be designed and run with the full participation of local stakeholders. A monitoring and evaluation system will also be with the aim of maximising benefits both to local communities and to biodiversity. Criteria & Indicators WWF Netherlands is working with the Dutch leisure company Molecaten Groep on the PAN Parks initiative to create mutual benefits for conservation and tourism in Europe. PAN Parks aim to transform tourism from a threat into an opportunity by building partnerships with nature conservation organisations, travel agencies, the business community, and other interest groups at local, national and international levels. By establishing the PAN Park brand as a mark of quality for a network of protected areas whose management and operations are certified against a set of principles and criteria, WWF aims to introduce a recognised ‘logo’ benefiting both the industry and the consumer. Existing parks in six European countries have so far agreed to participate (Abruzzo in Italy, Bialowieza and Biebrza in Poland, Dadia in Greece, Duna-Drava in Hungary, Slovensky Raj in Slovakia and Sumava in Czech Republic). Over fifteen parks have participated in field tests. Six principles cover criteria and indicators for: the Protected Area and its management body (1-3); the sustainable tourism development strategy (4); commercial partners (5); and sponsorship (6). Later this year, WWF-UK and IHEI will launch an international hotel benchmarking tool which will allow any hotel to measure its environmental performance against sectoral best practice.  

For further information contact:

Justin Woolford


Tel. +44 1483 412 508

Fax. +44 1483 861 360

E-mail: JWoolford@wwfnet.org

Erie Tamale/ Jenny Heap

WWF International

Tel. +41 22 364 9532

Fax +41 22 364 5829

E-mail: ETamale@wwfint.org


Dr. Peter Prokosch

WWF Arctic Programme

Tel. +47 22 03 65 18

Fax. +47 22 20 06 66

E-mail: peterp@online.no

Leonardo Lacerda

WWF Mediterranean Programme

Tel. +39 06 84 49 73 60

Fax. +39 06 84 13 866

E-mail: llacerda@wwfnet.org

Rogerio Dias

WWF Brazil

Tel. +55 61 248 2899

Fax. +55 61 364 3057

E-mail: rogerio@wwf.org.br

Zoltan Kun/ Arnold Kreveld

WWF Netherlands

Tel. +31 30 6937 333

Fax. +31 30 6912 064