Wetlands, leisure and tourism – take a breath of fresh air

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What is it about?

With their natural beauty and biodiversity wetlands make ideal locations for tourism. The income can be significant and support livelihoods locally and nationally. Wetlands provide other ‘services’ , too, such as water, food, water purification, erosion control ,etc., for the benefit of tourists and tourist accommodation. The income generated by tourism for national and local economies in and around wetlands can be substantial: the Broads in the UK supports the equivalent of 3,000 full-time jobs; over 1.6 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef every year, generating an income of over 1 billion AUS$. But - unsustainable tourism may bring short-term benefits but long-term losses to wetland health, compromising ecosystem services and sometimes local livelihoods.

What the Convention does

The Convention has signed an MOU with the UN World Tourism Organization in recognition of the interdependence between sustainable tourism and the sustainable management of wetlands. There are now joint projects between the two organizations to promote sustainable wetland tourism and great potential for combining our expertise to further wetland wise use AND sustainable tourism on a larger scale. World Wetlands Day in 2012 will be dedicated to ‘wetlands & tourism ‘and in the same year Ramsar’s 11th meeting of the Parties will have this as its theme, thus putting sustainable tourism firmly on the Ramsar agenda. 

What needs to be done next?

Clear guidance on managing tourism in and around wetlands and minimising negative impacts from tourism on wetlands even at the basin level. At Ramsar’s COP11 a Resolution on sustainable tourism and wetlands is likely to be adopted, thus providing a useful tool to assist countries in managing their tourism.

The Draft Resolution on Tourism is posted here  (PDF) and will be available soon as the final draft to be debated at COP11, July 2012.  This resolution urges Contracting Parties to work closely and in collaboration with all stakeholders, local, national and international, governmental and non-governmental, involved in tourism and wetland management, and considers the following:

A) Opportunities for wetlands and tourism
B) Direct and indirect threats to, and impacts on, wetlands from tourism
C) Definitions and available guidance relevant to tourism in wetlands

Wetlands, Tourism, Culture: The Big Picture

Wetland tourism has benefits both locally and nationally for people and wildlife – benefits such as stronger economies, sustainable livelihoods, healthy people and thriving ecosystems. At least 35% of Ramsar Sites around the world record some level of tourism activity and this percentage is consistent throughout all regions. Of course it is important to consider tourism in all wetlands – not just those designated as Ramsar Sites – since the Contracting Parties to the Convention are committed to managing all wetlands.

Wetlands and their wildlife are a key part of the global tourism and cultural travel experience: from visiting the lovely fjords of Norway, to experiencing the breath-taking sunsets at the Port Launay Ramsar Site in the Seychelles, tourists gain appreciation of different cultures through magnificent wetland landscapes when they visit these special places. The unique cultural experience that awaits you in the Kakadu National Park in Australia, home to some of the finest aboriginal art that exists, is another example of how wetlands, tourism and culture are thoroughly connected. The world’s Ramsar Sites and other wetlands have much to offer the adventurous tourist.
Including wetland-related cultural landscapes in tourism promotion activities is an important part of communicating the value of wetlands and Ramsar Sites worldwide. Cultural aspects of wetland tourism activities can bring benefits to local populations and demonstrate the importance of wetlands. Educational and interpretative activities in wetlands are a part of a rich tourism experience that should support local cultural values.

Ramsar and UNWTO: A Partnership

Ensuring well-managed tourism practices in and around wetlands and educating tourists on the value of wetlands contributes to the health of the world's wetlands and the long-term benefits that wetlands provide to people, wildlife, economics, and biodiversity. This is one reason why the formal agreement between Ramsar and UNWTO, the Memorandum of Cooperation, is important. On World Wetlands Day, February 2, 2010, the Ramsar Secretariat and UNWTO formalised their relationship and signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to promote the wise use and sustainable tourism practices at wetlands; increase and improve the designation and management of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites); and enhance regional and international cooperation between ministries responsible for wetlands management and biodiversity conservation and those responsible for tourism development.

> About the Ramsar UNWTO Memorandum of Cooperation

Looking Ahead to World Wetlands Day February 2, 2012


The World Wetlands Day 2012 message is: Wetland Tourism: A Great Experience. Responsible tourism supports wetlands and people. For World Wetlands Day, February 2, 2012, take some time to promote responsible, sustainable tourism at your local wetlands. Take a walk through a nearby wetland. Support educational practices that highlight the cultural values of wetlands.  The Ramsar and UNWTO partnership is important for World Wetlands Day 2012 messaging, to promote responsible tourism for wetlands with new WWD 2012 Materials.  Materials are posted here.


Looking Ahead to COP11, July 2012: “Wetlands, Tourism and Recreation”

At COP11, we will explore “Wetlands, Tourism and Recreation.” The Draft Resolution on Tourism showcases the importance of the subject for the consideration and adoption at COP11 by the Contracting Parties and this Draft Resolution will provide the framework to help countries develop sustainable tourism in wetlands and other ecosystems. It will propose measures that they can take in the short and long term to ensure sustainable wetland tourism.

Ramsar, in partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization  (UNWTO), will launch at COP11 a full-colour booklet based on practical case studies on tourism in Ramsar Sites and other wetlands, using selected sites from all of the Ramsar regions. The case studies will examine the direct and indirect impacts of tourism on wetlands and the opportunities and threats these bring.  It will highlight important lessons learned to help those considering the development of tourism in and around their wetlands or struggling to deal with issues from ongoing unsustainable tourism practices, identifying  key messages to share with important target groups – land-use as well as wetland policy-makers, local governments, tourism developers, wetland site managers and others.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,342

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