Updated: September 8, 2021

Responsible recovery of the travel and tourism sector after the Covid-19 crisis should be seen in the context of three overriding challenges facing humanity: Achieving net zero emissions / carbon neutrality by 2050; ensuring no more species loss after 2030, and decisively addressing growing inequality / inequity in society. In our coupled human-environment system, these three intertwined challenges cut across the SDGs and responsible tourism recovery can help to make the system more resilient.

As we reset and rebuild in a more equitable way in a post-Covid world, the travel and tourism sector – which represented 10.3% of global GDP and one in every 10 jobs on the planet before the pandemic hit – should be at the forefront of building a new world order.

Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. Around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. The accelerating rate of species loss, combined with the rapid loss of nature’s material and non-material contributions to people’s livelihoods, render this crisis at least as pressing a global priority as climate change and health pandemics.

The relationship between nature and societies finds expression in different ways. One way is through tourism. At the nexus between biodiversity and tourism we find local communities, who simultaneously benefit from nature-based tourism and are at the forefront of conservation and protection. We need to find integrated solutions at a global level (a key lesson from Covid-19 crisis!) and cannot afford to address climate, biodiversity and poverty in silos.

Tourism is heavily dependent on eco-system services such as food, water and energy; while also acting as an effective eco-system service in itself. Nature-based destinations accounted for 50% of all touristic trips in 2018. Tourism is an important source of service exports, disproportionately so for developing countries. Properly managed tourism benefits local communities, supports employment and boosts economic development in a way that disincentives unsustainable alternatives. Tourism revenues encourage communities to protect key wildlife populations and habitats. Its growth should / can enhance rather than degrade biodiversity. And it should / can educate visitors about biodiversity values and habitats. Responsible tourism is also an important source of revenue for the conservation of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, species and protected areas. Biodiversity furthermore has a critical role in achieving a carbon neutral world.

At the same time, tourism economies will be disrupted due to accelerating biodiversity loss. Some negatives on tourism’s ‘biodiversity balance sheet’ include the illegal trade in wildlife products (noting that tourism also provides a bulwark against poaching in conservation areas), the spread of alien and invasive species, pressure on habitats due to poorly planned developments and land use, over-exploitation, waste disposal and pollution.


WTFL and WTM believe that true stewardship is not only be about zero impact or mitigating impact, but rather about having a positive impact – economic, social and ecological.

WTFL has been collecting innovative ‘stories’ from the travel and tourism sector focused on both green shoots and established best practice in respect of tourism, biodiversity and eco-system services.

Some of these innovative and inspiring concepts will be shared during WTM London, WTM Latin America, WTM Africa and Arabian Travel Market.