A recent blogpost on Sean David Smith blogpost was asking a question whether protected areas managed by the US National Park Service are national parks or amusement parks. According to the author the question raised at the begining of the 21st century, whether national parks remains sacred sites for protection or be degraded into nothing more than amusement parks is still out on the jury.
Can the situation in the US be observed in Europe as well? The Europarc Federation published the Loving them to Death report in the early 1990s, and subsequently re-published the report in 2001. Tourism, which became part of our life in Europe, can indeed be a threat to many protected areas in our continent. There are very negative impacts of tourism development especially linked to coastal areas and mountains (for instance developing new ski slopes).
The typical boom and bust tourism development must be avoided in protected areas. However tourism activities also offer a lot of opportunity especially for wilderness areas:
- through sustainable tourism, visitation, to protected areas the knowledge about wilderness can increase throughout the society
- sustainable tourism offers an economic opportunity for rural areas, which is based on non-extractive use
Tourism can of course benefit the visitors! There are various studies arguing that a) hiking makes you happier through improving mental health and b) outdoor recreation and nature nurtures your creativity. Tourism – if well planned and managed on a sustainable way – might be considered as the education tool of the 21st century, bringing people closer to each other and improving the knowledge about natural processes.
While our core mission is to identify, designate, manage and promote wilderness across Europe, the European Wilderness Society has a strong interest in using tourism as a tool to increase support for wilderness protection in Europe. Therefore we are currently working with various tourism companies, educational institutes and the UNEP through its working group on sustainable tourism to improve tourism practice in Europe’s wilderness areas. A new ERASMUS+ Knowledge Alliance is about to be built with various stakeholders around this subject.