There is no scientific literature unanimous definition of nature-based tourism (NBT). Instead, the concept is often used as a synonym to ecotourism, outdoor tourism, and wilderness tourism. The fundamental challenge in studying nature-based tourism (NBT) is defining the consumers and the producers within its complex system and differentiating regular tourists from outdoor recreationists and NBT specific activities from services offered within a destination. This reflects the need for a comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon. Recently conducted study of NBT experiencescape additionally emphasised its multi-faced and conflicting nature. NBT is most often defined as a type of tourism that relies on experiences directly related to natural attractions, often involving activities in protected natural and wilderness areas. It is also discussed as the enjoyment of wilderness or relatively undisturbed natural areas such as lakes, islands, mountains, valleys and engagement in outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing, trekking, and swimming. Within the Millennium ecosystem assessment, through the lens of ecosystem services, NBT has been acknowledged as a cultural service, the non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystem through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences. NBT is also space-dependent activity involving entrepreneurs, many of which are small, located in rural regions, combine tourism with other industries, and thus produce a multiplier effect, influence community well-being and resilience. However, although nature remains the principal reason to involve in NBT, the largest share of the economic impact is generated through traditional tourism services.
NBT is currently the fastest growing tourism sector globally, and for many destinations most significant tourism segment. The demand for nature-based experiences is high and will probably continue to grow, which, to some extent, reflects the increasing demand for sustainable and responsible vacations across the world. The analysis of Europeans’ preferences toward tourism demonstrated that nature is one of the main reasons to go on holiday. Along with its growth potential, recently conducted study on a global perspective on trends in nature-based tourism proved the considerable potential of NBT to generate funds for conservation and shape people’s attitudes toward the environment. Recently, many NB destinations, specially protected natural areas, have witnessed increasing visitation as activities in natural settings are recognised as a physical and mental antidote to the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reports on the rapid growth of NBT add significant weight to the economic case for biodiversity conservation but seem to contradict widely spread concerns that people are becoming increasingly isolated from nature. As more and more people live in urban areas, getting in touch with nature provides ultimately different holiday experiences. Immersion in nature indeed provides unique experiences that differ from daily life. Simultaneously, such activities exert many pressures on the very resources they rely on, thus implying a need for careful planning and management. NBT is about tourism businesses and visitation; however, it also involves many communities and natural resources management challenges.
Understanding the recent changes calls for more research targeted at the challenges NBT faces and a holistic, cross-disciplinary approach to broad geographical representation across the topic. The knowledge basis for NBT is still quite fragmented, which reflects the main argument to deliver this handbook. We strongly believe that this field lacks system approach, studies examining both demand and supply aspect of NBT, as well as destination and tourism business perspectives primarily through the lens of triple-bottom-line impact assessments, stakeholder participation, changing demand and recent challenges as COVID-19 crisis, overtourism, climate change, regenerative and transformative tourism and resilience.
The overall aim in producing this handbook is to extend recent writing on nature-based tourism development to deliver comprehensive and systematic outlook of the phenomenon, and in doing so, to comment critically on vital concepts within both policy and practice. This handbook should serve as media to share current knowledge, innovative tools, sustainable solutions with substantial evidence and societal impact, and go well beyond a simple standard practice description. We encourage collaboration across and beyond disciplines and contributions that demonstrate engagement between researchers, practitioners, and communities, making academic research more relevant for all stakeholders.
This handbook will be of interest for researchers and practitioners focused on NBT, as it will include state of the art studies describing various aspects of NBT planning, development and management. It will shed light on research priorities relevant to academia and discuss challenges and feasible solutions relevant to and applied by practitioners. We recognise a significant gap between academia and practitioners and aim to establish a framework with this handbook to bridge that gap. With the impactful contributions, we aim to lay the foundations for a comprehensive and holistic understanding of NBT development and to move beyond current understanding of the phenomenon by identifying research priorities.
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