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The Blue Economy: Challenges and Solutions in Sustainable Coastal Tourism Development

Aerial view of a beach that is filled with tourists and reclining chairs on the sand showing the reality of coastal tourism

In terms of magnitude, tourism is one of the largest sectors in the world. Overall, tourism and travel account for nearly 10 percent of global GDP. Likewise, annual revenues have been estimated at $7.6 trillion. While these figures are astounding, it is also noteworthy that 80 percent of tourism occurs along coastal towns and areas. Beaches, coral reefs and an array of aquatic activities attract millions each year. Thus, the bottom line is that coastal tourism plays a significant role in the future of the Blue Economy.

Nearly 300 million jobs rely on coastal tourism. In addition, coastal tourism is vital to the survival of small developing island nations around the globe.

But as tourism advances, the risks that coastal tourism impose are sizable. With these concerns increasing, many are strongly advocating for more sustainable tourism development.

Coastal Tourism and the Challenges Ahead in the Blue Economy

With such volumes of travel and coastal tourism, a number of problems face island communities. Some of these problems have been self-inflicted while others have been spin-offs. But either way, all point to the need for sustainable tourism development in these regions. Shoreline developments to date have already cleared precious coral reefs and mangroves to expand sandy beach areas. Likewise, piers and other coastal tourism structures have also negatively impacted these environments. And on-shore developments involving other structures have affected native habitats. Those involving the current dismal state of sea turtles are a notable example of poor sustainable tourism development.

Others are not as apparent when it comes to the negative impacts of coastal tourism. For example, wastewater produced by hotels and resorts poses additional challenges. Plastic bottles and other trash are also concerns resulting from increasing coastal tourism numbers. Other issues in coastal tourism also threaten to worsen climate change. Cruise ship pollution, as well as emissions from recreational water activities, are examples of these problems. Unless these issues are addressed through sustainable tourism development, a variety of negative impacts will sporadically emerge. These will likely include repercussions to the environment, marine life, as well as the economic well-being of many coastal areas.

Proactive “Blue” Approaches to Sustainable Tourism Development

While a number of blue initiatives and forums are proposing action, some island nations are being proactive. Because of their economic reliance on coastal tourism, it only makes sense to promote sustainable tourism development. For example, the Republic of Palau require all tourists to sign the Palau Pledge before arriving in the islands. This move raises awareness of the potential harms coastal tourism brings, as well as the best practices that can be observed by tourist during their visit to islands.

While Palau has taken this approach, the islands of Seychelles have embraced a more comprehensive plan for sustainable tourism development. The objective is to balance economic development with both cultural and environmental conservation and protection. In essence, Seychelles’ plan for sustainable tourism development involves five major areas.

  • Sustainable Marine Spatial Planning – This area addresses new developments involving coastal tourism structures through formal sustainable tourism development planning.
  • Innovative “Blue” Bonds – This part is offered as a means to finance management, rehabilitation and restoration efforts of marine and coastal areas.
  • Scheduled Periodic Audits – This area is set up to establish monitoring activities and evaluation reports on a consistent and regular basis to guide sustainability efforts.
  • Sustainable Tourism Development Certifications – With this area, resorts and other coastal tourism businesses would be listed as compliant with sustainability requirements.
  • Debt-For-Nature Conservation – This part covers large loans acquired currently to invest in sustainable tourism development and other sustainability activities.
a photo of a coastal community in an island by the sea depicting the reality of coastal tourism and the need for sustainable tourism development
Coastal tourism represents a significant economic area for many nations.

A Good Start with Much More Required

The efforts made by Seychelles and Palau are important steps in the right direction for sustainable tourism development. At a global scale, one out of every 11 jobs is in the tourism industry.

Therefore, coastal tourism represents a significant economic area for many nations. However, undermining the climate, the environment and marine life in the process will quickly deplete these resources. Similarly, it will place many developing countries in economic distress as coastal tourism quality fades. For these reasons, a global effort is needed to promote genuinely sustainable tourism development.

For more on Bold Business’ series on the Blue Economy, check out these stories on Deep Seabed MiningWater Desalination and Aquaculture Systems, and Aquaculture Sustainability in Meeting Global Demand for Food.


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