The Economic Impact of Global Wildlife Tourism - WTTC

Travel & Tourism can play a tremendous role in combatting the global scourge that is the illegal trade in wildlife. Through the World Travel & Tourism Council's (WTTC) research on the economic contribution of wildlife tourism, we hope to draw further attention to the enormous economic opportunities associated to Travel & Tourism and thereby further substantiate the rationale for greater wildlife protection.


Below is the part of the WTTC's report on how travel & tourism can be used as an economic tool for the protection of wildlife - August 2019.

Each year, the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is worth at least USD 23 billion. IWT is the fourth largest category of illegal global trade and is responsible for threatening a broad range of endangered species. Protecting wildlife is therefore an immense challenge.

The global Travel & Tourism sector is an important part of the world economy accounting for 10.4% of global GDP and supporting one in ten jobs on the planet (319 million)8. Quantifying the value of wildlife tourism as an important niche within global Travel & Tourism is a crucial step towards providing the data that helps prove the economic value of protecting wildlife habitats; acting as a positive counterbalance to environmentally destructive yet economically profitable practices.

Wildlife tourism (WT) – here defined as viewing and experiencing animals in their natural habitat – is increasingly recognised as an important part of the overall Travel & Tourism sector. The importance of WT is all the greater given the threats that have emerged to wildlife around the world, ranging from habitat destruction, climate change and the impacts of poaching. However, while the importance of this form of tourism is often recognised, statistics on WT are often dated, incomplete or conflated with other forms of tourism.

Accordingly, this report undertakes that task, using both top down (aggregated) and bottom up (disaggregated) data sources to determine global estimates for the economic contribution of WT. These estimates include direct expenditure, GDP and employment effects of WT at the continental and global levels.

In addition, estimates of the total impact of WT on GDP and employment on these geographies and at a global level have been developed, allowing for the “multiplier effects” of spending by WT suppliers, WT and supply chain workers, investment and government spending.

Fortunately, there are several cases of effective programs and ‘local level’ initiatives to prevent illegal wildlife trade to draw on. For instance, Kenya’s National Wildlife Strategy 2030 provides evidence-based support for tackling poaching, while a collection of Conservancies (such as Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy) have implemented land management and monitoring strategies to prevent poachers. GPS-supported, community-based forest crime prevention approaches are being developing in the Amazon in Brazil, with prospects for many African countries.

Case Studies:


Kenya has a rich abundance of wildlife that thrives in habitats stretching from the Indian Ocean to forested ecosystems, vast savannah woodlands, mountain peaks, and to the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. The country has 411 PAs, covering 12% of its terrestrial area and 1% of its marine area. A large share of the governance types for these areas are unreported, followed by 19% federal governance. A widespread PA system is in place with over 10% of its land area currently gazetted as national parks, national reserves or forest reserves: the system to date is comprised of 23 national parks, 28 national reserves, 4 marine national parks, 5 marine national reserves and 4 national sanctuaries. Based on social media data of geotagged ecotourist photos, Willemen et al. (2015) find that Kenyan Reserves, Samburu National Reserve and Mukogodo Forest Reserve, are among the top wildlife tourist attractions in Africa.

WT has grown in Kenya over the past several decades, with early initiatives influenced by policy changes that saw the creation of national parks and reserves and banning hunting. Taking a historical perspective, in the 1980s, the WT industry boomed, relatively speaking, with increased lodge capacity and size to cater for increasing visitor numbers. Since then, however, funding for WT related infrastructure has significantly reduced. Past estimates indicate that WT accounted for about 70% of tourism earnings and more than 10% of total formal sector employment in the country. Despite the growth of both private reserves and beach tourism, the heart of Kenya’s WT and ecotourism industry remains its national parks and reserves and their surrounding buffer zones.

Kenya has led some of Africa’s earliest experiments in community-based conservation using park and
tourism revenues and began the first efforts to systematically adopt a set of principles and practices in its national park system. The private sector has also been key to the development of WT and ecotourism in Kenya. Today, roughly 75% of ecotourism ventures are public-private partnerships. Yet in regulatory terms, the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act still recognises the state as the sole regulator of matters related to wildlife, a position perceived as restrictive and insensitive to the realities of wildlife conservation, particularly the potential role of local people. In order to address this gap, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was created through subsidiary legislation that allows private people to participate in wildlife conservation and WT subject to compliance with legislative requirements.

As its human and livestock population grows, the sustainable development and management of its
nationally-vital wildlife resources and of its robust safari tourism sector remains a major concern. The
country is experiencing an accelerated decline of its wildlife population.

South Africa

South Africa has 1,544 protected areas, covering 8% of its terrestrial land and 12% of its marine area. The majority of protected areas are governed by individual landowners, which is a typical compared with the other national case studies that are primarily government run. Kruger National Park in South Africa is in a league of its own because of its diversity of animals as well as advanced environmental management techniques and policies. It is one of the largest parks in Africa covering ~20,000 km2. It is well-managed and maintains large and relatively stable animal populations.

Grünewald et al. (2016) find that most park visitors are locals, with 79% being South African. Visitors spend large proportions of their viewing time on predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs. Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape province is the only park where the Big Seven can be viewed, including: the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African lion, African leopard, African rhino as well as whales and Great White sharks. Across the country’s PAs, Lindsey at al. (2009) find that mega-herbivores and large carnivores are most popular, particularly among first time and overseas visitors. Despite this, African visitors and experienced wildlife viewers tend to be more interested in bird and plant diversity, scenery, and rarer, less easily-observed and/or less high-profile mammals.

As a part of the updating and cross-checking of Balmford et al.’s work conducted for this study, visitor statistics were collected for 19 South African protected areas. Kruger National Park was top-ranking in terms of visitation with approximately 1.5 million visitors annually as at 2007. Cape Peninsula National Park also saw an average of 1,462,649 visitors per year from 2002 to 200661. Meanwhile, iSimangaliso Wetland Park was the first site in South Africa to be awarded World Heritage status. It contains most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests and is Africa’s largest estuarine system. A wide range of past studies have focused on South Africa as a primary case study for WT trends. Conducting surveys of South African wildlife tourists, Boshoff et al. (2007) found that 23% of respondents visited South Africa’s national parks ‘frequently’, compared with 13% to its provincial parks and reserves and 4.5% to its private reserves.

Social media studies, such as Willemen et al. (2015), show that Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa is among the African PAs with the highest potential to attract wildlife tourists based on attractive species occurrence. Overall, the sustainability implications of South Africa’s WT growth appear to be positive. For instance, the proliferation of private WT destinations (e.g. private game reserves) has contributed to the large-scale conversion of previous agricultural land to conservation land use.


Tanzania is endowed with a rich storehouse of nature-based tourist attractions. Tourism is focused primarily around its renowned attractions in the great plains of the Serengeti, the wildlife spectacle of the Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro as well as the island of Zanzibar with its lush tropical beaches. The Serengeti National Park is one of the best places to see the Serengeti wildebeest migration, while Africa’s highest mountain - Mount Kilimanjaro lies in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro National Park. 

The most popular PAs in Tanzania include the Ngorongoro Crater with roughly 40% of visitors to PAs in Tanzania, followed by Serengeti National Park at 25%, Tarangire with 11.2%, and Arusha with roughly 10.8%. Tanzania has a great variety of PAs with immense biodiversity, including national parks, game reserves, marine parks and forest reserves. As at 2017, this includes 16 national parks,
28 game reserves, 44 game-controlled areas and 38 wildlife management areas. These areas range from marine habitats to grassland and mountain terrains. Indeed, approximately one third of Tanzanian territory is protected.

Protected wildlife areas in Tanzania span 246,260 km², covering 26.6% of the country’s total land area. According to the World Bank (2018), Tanzania has roughly 1.9 million ecotourism visitors per year. Tanzania’s 840 PAs cover an uncommonly large proportion of its terrestrial area at 38%, with 3% marine area coverage. Almost all PAs are governed by federal ministries or agencies.

Overall, tourism in Tanzania continues to grow. Roughly 46% of international tourists experience a wildlife activity, compared to 26% with a beach holiday component and 11% undertaking hunting and fishing. Entrance fees to PAs, are much greater for tourists than locals. For instance, from 2015 to 2017 game reserve entrance costs averaged US$41 for international tourist adults versus US$3.35 for Tanzanian citizen adults. While a cost to foreigners, this is good news for tourism revenues. WTTC estimates indicate that the tourism sector contributed 11.7% to Tanzania’s GDP, with 2.3 million people supported in the sector’s employment. Currently, Tanzania’s national parks are working towards International Standards Organisation (ISO) certification for service excellence in tourism.

Source: WTTC