- Issue: Winter 2015
Protected areas have great value—they give refuge to endangered species and preserve whole ecosystems. They also benefit humans, including adventurous tourists. But until now, it's been hard to pinpoint their economic value.
Knowing that tourism generates money for parks, WWF Lead Wildlife Scientist Robin Naidoo and fellow researchers set out to quantify the worth of protected areas to the tourism industry, and to assess how tourist spending in protected areas could contribute to conservation financing for those very places. The team painstakingly amassed data on how many people visited 556 parks in 51 countries. They then built a model to predict the number of annual park visits based on geographical and socioeconomic factors.
The researchers estimated that tourists spend $600 billion annually in protected areas—far more than is actually spent on maintaining them.
The team is now quantifying how popular wildlife like elephants and tigers contribute to a park's economic worth. The more we know about how tourists value parks and the species in them, the better prepared we are to seek funds to protect parks for the long haul.