Special Issue of the Tourism Planning & Development: Sustainable and resilient nature-based tourism development in the post-pandemic era

Special Issue editors: Dr Ante Mandić1, Dr Anna Spenceley2, Dr Yu-Fai Leung3

1University of Split, Faculty of economics, business and tourism, Croatia; ante.mandic@efst.hr; 2University of Johannesburg, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, South Africa; annaspenceley@gmail.com; 3North Carolina State University, College of Natural Resources, USA; Leung@ncsu.edu

Nature-based tourism (NBT) is an umbrella term used to describe tourism activities and visitor experiences that depend on nature (Fredman & Tyrväinen, 2010). It is often considered as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the world’s largest industry, a critical justification for nature conservation (Balmford et al., 2009), and a crucial driver of poverty reduction (Spenceley, 2022). With roughly an estimated 8 billion visits per year, of which more than 80% are in Europe and North America (Balmford et al., 2015), protected areas (PAs) are a significant focus of NBT. Visitor experiences in natural settings contribute to global travel and tourism GDP by 4.4% and sustain 6.8% of total tourism jobs globally (WTTC, 2019). The major drivers behind NBT demand are growing attention to healthy lifestyles and healthy ageing (Elmahdy et al., 2017), and it is expected that NBT in PAs will continue to increase in the future (Hartig et al., 2014; Fredman & Margaryan, 2021).

In the context of biodiversity decline, climate change, and other global environmental challenges of our times, the role of PAs becomes even more critical for contributing to nature conservation and other sustainability goals (IPBES-IPCC, 2021). Research on PAs worldwide demonstrates the importance of conserved natural environments to maintain physical and mental health (Buckley et al., 2019; Shanahan et al., 2019; White et al., 2019; Steg & De Groot, 2019), to prevent the future outbreak of zoonotic disease (Bates et al., 2021), and to mitigate the effects of climate change (Melillo et al., 2016).

The most recent global travel restrictions have seriously affected the NBT sector (Spenceley, 2021). Indeed, reduced visitor numbers created an opportunity for vibrant PAs to set peak limits and increase the quality of visitor experiences (Mandić, 2021). However, the funding for conservation was also reduced, and management capacities, budgets, and effectiveness have deteriorated (Hockings et al., 2020). NBT operators experienced a significant decline in tourism revenues, leading to dismissals, lower salaries, reduced income, jeopardising the cash flows and business resilience within the entire tourism value chain (Spenceley et al., 2021). As soon as travel restrictions were lifted, some PAs have witnessed soaring visitation numbers up to 50%, 75% or even more than previous years (McGinlay et al., 2020; Spenceley et al., 2021), reflecting the renewed interest in domestic NBT, a healthy lifestyle in general, and the opportunity to keep social distancing outdoors and reduce the chance to transmit the disease.

Responsible recovery of the NBT will require reflections on how PAs were performing in the face of massive tourism before the pandemic, as well as new and innovative approaches to deal with some inherent challenges, including overcrowding, depreciative visitor behaviour and conflicts, parking and traffic issues, social distancing, maintaining health and hygiene, and cancellation of various activities (McGinlay et al., 2020). Achievement of the long term resilience in terms of NBT in PAs will reflect stakeholders’ ability to design innovative visitor experiences, develop alternative revenue streams for tourism-dependent local communities, address seasonality in a holistic, inclusive, equitable and adaptable way (Spenceley et al. 2021), align conservation and human-development agendas (Lindsey et al., 2020) and combat the climate emergency. 

In response to the system-wide implications of the current pandemic for NBT, and aligned with recent Resolutions 130 (IUCN, 2021), this special issue calls for theoretical, empirical, and case study, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research to advance the understanding of how to rebuild NBT in a sustainable, equitable, and pro-conservation capacity. The contributions should clearly address the theoretical and practical implications of the research. The proposed topics may include but are not limited to the following:

  • NBT: management practices and social mechanisms for greater resilience
  • NBT and systems thinking
  • NBT and management effectiveness
  • Sustainable financing and alternative revenue streams
  • NBT, conservation and responsible use of environmental resources
  • NBT and climate change
  • NBT and wellbeing
  • NBT and benefit-sharing
  • NBT and tourism operators
  • NBT and visitor experiences
  • NBT: responsible and pro-environmental behaviour

We invite interested authors to submit an extended abstract (750-1000 words excluding references) to the co-editors Dr Ante Mandić (ante.mandic@efst.hr), Dr Anna Spenceley (annaspenceley@gmail.com), and Dr Yu-Fai Leung (Leung@ncsu.edu), by 15 September 2022. Abstracts should include the title, author affiliation(s) and contact information (including the email addresses of all authors) and keywords (maximum six). For those who are invited to prepare full manuscripts, the deadline for the submission of full papers will be 15 March 2023. All proposals invited to proceed with full paper submissions will be subject to the normal peer-review process of the Tourism Planning & Development.


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