A thriving wildlife forms the very foundation of the tourism sector in many of the world’s destinations. The world’s rich biodiversity is tourism’s natural capital and the mission of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is to advance sustainable tourism development that respects and preserves the world’s natural heritage.
One of the most pressing issues facing us today is the unprecedented levels of poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Nowhere is this more critical than in the African continent, where wildlife is facing one of its greatest crises in decades.
That very same wildlife is the driving force behind the incredible success story of African tourism. UNWTO research clearly shows that wildlife watching tourism is one of the most important tourism segments in Africa. As such, loss of biodiversity not only threatens entire ecosystems, but entails devastating loss of sustainable livelihoods.
Ten years ago, 20 million international tourists visited an African destination. Today, that number has almost tripled to 56 million. Tourism is increasingly identified by African governments as a fundamental tool for development given the sector’s proven ability to increase exports, skills development, investment in infrastructure and job opportunities. Safe to say, this would not have been possible without the draw of the region’s truly unique wildlife, the main reason for millions of visits each year.
The theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day could not be more timely; it is indeed high time to get serious about wildlife crime. UNWTO remains firmly committed to mobilizing the tourism sector in support of international anti-poaching efforts and further conservation the world’s natural assets.
On this World Wildlife Day, UNWTO calls on policy makers, the private sector and tourists alike to do their part in suppressing both supply and demand of illicit wildlife products. Together, can we can harness the power of the tourism sector to make a difference and help put an end to these odious crimes worldwide.