We visit natural attractions for many reasons, including:
Some natural attractions are close to cities and transport systems whereas others require considerable effort to get there – which can be part of their appeal.
Some natural attractions are highly publicised and attract hundreds of thousands of tourists across the globe each year. Others are hidden treasures known only to a lucky few. Some natural attractions have multiple tourist facilities such as accommodation, guided tours, cafes, shops and the like but others have little or no development.
However, regardless of any attraction’s location, popularity, or associated development, it needs to be managed so that humans do not degrade the natural ecosystems (animals, plants, geology, river systems, etc) that are an intrinsic element of the attraction and that have taken millions of years to evolve.
Different terms are used to describe tourism in natural environments. These include:
Another problem is that natural sites may be far away from accommodation or large travel facilities such as mainland airports or bus depots or from island airports and hotels. However, some airports which drop visitors off to remote areas such as the New Guinea highlands are necessarily close to the natural attractions. Alternatives may be costly and difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, they may ultimately be worth the effort since facilities that are developed to serve tourists will also serve the local people and enable them to travel out of their remote areas and bring services and goods in more easily. Where the costs of such developments for the sake of the local people alone are prohibitive - tourism can provide the impetus and justification for development that benefits the locals as well as tourism.
Sustainable tourism aims to achieve a balance between preserving natural environments with the needs of tourists. The best-known form of sustainable tourism is ecotourism, which has a strong focus on visitor participation and education. The main characteristics of ecotourism are:
Ecotourism is an important niche in the special interest tourism industry. Worldwide, it is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the tourism industry. It is particularly important to the economies of developing countries that have many natural attractions but limited resources to develop facilities for mainstream tourism.
Ecotourism attracts people who wish to visit relatively undisturbed environments in order to enjoy and appreciate nature. Most ecotourism attractions have a strong emphasis on providing their guests with an understanding of the environment by providing first-hand experiences, such as guided walks and wildlife safaris. Ecotourists are often encouraged to participate in conservation programs to help further their understanding and to benefit the environment, for example, assisting scientists to collect field data and samples.
In the long term, ecotourism can only work by limiting visitor numbers otherwise the attractions will degrade to the extent that visitors will no longer be attracted to them. In some areas, visitor fees are imposed to help restrict visitor numbers and also to cover maintenance costs. Supporting facilities such as accommodation may also be regulated. Those facilities that are necessary are designed to have minimal impact on the environment (e.g. composting toilets, recycled water, passive solar buildings). Areas subject to heavy tourist pressure might need laws to protect wildlife and sites, and to strictly control the selling and collection of natural items such as corals, shells, feathers, skins, claws, and suchlike.
Tourism development planning and management must consider the scale of tourism that is appropriate for a local environment and community. That includes considering:
There exists a wide variety of activities and interests within the category of wildlife tourism. Some tourists will seek to be educated whereas others are attracted purely for the aesthetic experience. Activities may range from day trips to multi-week adventures. Popular activities include whale watching, safaris, bird watching, polar cruises, dolphin viewing, shark cage diving, coral reef snorkelling and more. Sites need to be selected based on sustainability, biological suitability, adequate visitor facilities, and appropriate protection for resources.