Biodiversity and cultural heritage are intrinsically linked and form the foundation upon which the needs of humanity are filled. In communities around the world, both cultural and natural heritage are at risk, often due to short-sighted tourism models. Sustainable tourism can play a critical role in conservation, protecting plant and animal life, and supporting communities to preserve their cultures, traditions, and livelihoods.

[Sustainable tourism] leads to the management of all resources in a manner that economic, social and aesthetic needs are fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biodiversity, and life support systems.

— United Nations

Almost every project CREST takes on is rooted in biodiversity and cultural heritage in some capacity. It is essential that communities are at the heart of decision-making and have a right to determine how their cultural heritage is shared and biodiversity is conserved.

Why It Matters

Awe-inspiring biodiversity and unique cultures are what make our world a wonderful place to live – and what makes a place worth visiting. Together, they make up the distinctive character of a destination, or its sense of place.  However, the way tourism has developed in the past several decades has put at risk, severely harmed, watered down, and, in some cases, decimated those very qualities. When the biodiversity and cultural heritage of a destination is eroded, not only is our planet harmed, so too is the competitive advantage for tourism. There is a better way. Thoughtful, strategic tourism planning and management can help protect and even enhance these unique aspects of place. 

What CREST is Doing About It

In 2020, the World Wildlife Fund, the Belize World Heritage Advisory Committee, the Protected Areas Conservation Trust, and MAR Fund launched a project in Belize which includes the development of a marketing and branding strategy and communications plan to strengthen the Belizean and international community’s perception of the importance of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS), the second-largest coral reef system in the world consisting of seven marine protected areas. We are consulting to develop the branding, marketing, and communications strategies for the BBRRS.

The BBRRS was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 but was placed on the List of Sites in Danger in 2009 due to the impacts of climate change, pollution, uncontrolled oil extraction, coastal development, and unsustainable tourism. After the combined efforts of the private, public, and civil sectors and the scientific community, it was removed from that list in 2018.

More work remains to be done to protect this natural asset, as the BBRRS is a vital source of income for more than half of Belize’s population, and is home to a significant diversity of plant and animal life. 

In June 2020, the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund joined CREST as a fiscally-sponsored program. The nonprofit initiative in Puerto Natales, Chile works to create a sustainable future for the iconic Torres del Paine National Park and its surrounding communities. The Legacy Fund promotes a destination stewardship model that brings together public and private stakeholders to collectively implement and finance sustainability action projects.

Since 2018, the Legacy Fund has worked with 159 volunteers and 44 local and international business partners on various protected area infrastructure and conservation initiatives in Torres del Paine. Further details of TDPLF’s impact can be found within their 2018-2020 Biennial Report.  The Legacy Fund and CREST look forward to working hand-in-hand with local communities in southern Patagonia for years to come.

In partnership with the Tigrai Culture and Tourism Bureau (TCTB) and Mekelle University, we, in 2015 & 2016, developed a high-quality, English-language, route guide and map for the Wukro-Ghera Rock Hewn Churches and other cultural attractions in Tigrai province, Ethiopia. This consultancy was part of the European Development Fund’s project “Preserving and Promoting Tigrai’s Cultural Heritage for Development” aimed at promoting Tigrai’s rich cultural heritage to the international market, in order to help increase jobs and local livelihoods. We also provided recommendations for continued responsible tourism development that will help to preserve and protect the beautiful culture and environment while generating income and cross-cultural understanding.    

Released in January 2014, this CREST study examines the economic impacts of two outdoor recreational activities in the magnificent Great Bear Rainforest in coastal British Columbia: bear hunting and bear viewing. It is the first to compare the economic value of these two sectors and comes in the midst of public controversy over trophy bear hunting.

The study was conducted by CREST researchers at Stanford University and in Washington, DC, together with two BC-based experts. The nine-month study, titled “The Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia,” finds that bear viewing tourism generates 12 times more in visitor spending than trophy bear hunting.

First Nation peoples living in Canada’s magnificent Great Bear Rainforest have called for a ban on bear hunting, while the British Columbia government continues to issue hunting licenses. An article based on the study was published in the Journal of Ecotourism.