In 2018, wildlife tourism directly contributed $120.1bn to global GDP, compared with the $23bn in revenue attributed to the illegal trade in wildlife, according to new research from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
This includes viewing and experiencing animals in their natural habitat, which accounts for 4.4 per cent of all direct tourism GDP last year and directly provided 9.1 million jobs worldwide.
Released on World Elephant Day, the research shows that the total economic contribution of wildlife tourism totals $343.6bn – equivalent to the entire economy of Hong Kong.
Asia-Pacific forms the largest regional market worth $53.3bn in direct GDP and responsible for 4.5 million jobs.
In second place is Africa, where 3.6 million people are employed through wildlife tourism, which was worth $29.3bn last year.
Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive officer, WTTC, marked the release of the research, which falls on World Elephant Day, saying, “Our message to tourism businesses, employees and visitors across the globe is that wildlife is worth far more alive than dead.
“Wildlife tourism is a rich segment of the industry, showing how our precious species can legitimately enrich tourism businesses without being harmed.
“In fact, the wildlife tourism market is so strong – worth five times more than the illegal trade – that it provides a strong incentive for communities to protect and display animals to the world rather than killing them for a one-off cash bonus.
“For years, we have professed the role and value of Travel and Tourism in alleviating poverty, and wildlife tourism is a key part of that.
“With more than 110 signatories to date, the WTTC’s Buenos Aires Declaration Against the Illegal Trade in Wildlife commits the travel industry to helping to eradicate the scourge of wildlife trafficking in the world, working together to responsibly inform the behaviour of one billion travellers across the world.
“This new research compounds the rationale behind our work, demonstrating the power and potential of travel to displace such illicit activity.”
Highlights from the report include over one-third of all direct tourism GDP across Africa in 2018 attributed to wildlife (36.3 per cent), while North America is the third largest wildlife tourism economy after Asia-Pacific and Africa, directly contributing $13.5 billion to GDP last year.
At least 21.8 million jobs globally are supported by wildlife tourism – equivalent to the population of Sri Lanka.
The report also touches on case studies of wildlife tourism and its value in Brazil, Germany, China, India, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, the UK and the USA.
The research is one piece in a series of comprehensive reports from WTTC analysing the impact of various travel segments, with the next focusing on medical tourism.