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Biosphere Reserves and Tourism

Biosphere reserves are areas that have been recognised as protected areas by UNESCO and serve to maintain sustainable development as well as being model regions for new management practices and research approaches. In this context, it must be acknowledged that sustainable tourism plays an important role in fulfilling the functions of biosphere reserves and on a different level is vital for the economies of these regions.

Until now, there was no quantifiable data on the economic importance of nature tourism in biosphere reserves or on visitor numbers and profiles. This data serves as an important basis for long-term economic valuation and for increasing the acceptance of these areas. A study carried out by the  School of Geography and Regional Research at the University of Wurzburg under the Environmental Research Plan of the Federal Environment Ministry has now been published and has provided great assistance in this field. Having selected six protected areas, the study examines the importance of tourism in German biosphere reserves to the local economies of these regions. Through an extrapolation of the tourism data collected, an approximation of the  situation of biosphere reserves across Germany was put together: the 15 German UNESCO biosphere reserves together welcome approximately 65 million visitors annually, which equates to a gross turnover of almost three billion euro. This figure corresponds to more than 86,000 so called income equivalents which are created or secured through tourism in biosphere reserves. Results clearly indicate that tourism in biosphere reserves makes a considerable contribution towards the local economy. Day trippers are a particularly important tourism segment. In four of the six biosphere reserves selected for the study, day trippers accounted for over 60 percent of all visitors.

Today some biosphere reserves are already popular tourist destinations, including those in the Wadden Sea, Berchtesgadener Land and on South East Rügen. According to the study, other biosphere reserves have a real chance of making themselves into popular tourist destinations.

The outcome of the study reflects the commitment of the biosphere reserves to this important sector. Successful tourism marketing campaigns are also important for raising public awareness of the "UNESCO biosphere reserve" brand and the programme behind it, "Man and the Biosphere", which promotes a more modern understanding of conservation and the sustainable use of nature and landscapes.

According to the study, one in every two visitors was aware of the areas' conservation status. However, on average only 6.4% of visitors gave the areas’ status as a UNESCO biosphere reserve as a main reason for their visit. The highest percentage of 21.5% was recorded in the Schalsee bioshere reserve, thus proving that previously lesser known destinations have profited from their biosphere reserve status.

The study has also shown that potential is far from being fully exploited. This does not solely apply to regions that have to make a name for themselves on the fiercely competitive tourist market, but also to biosphere reserves with a long tradition as a tourist destination as they too still have some catching up to do when it comes to sustainable tourism and modernising infrastructure. Biosphere reserves are facing a number of challenges that need to be addressed: better exploiting their potential, improving cooperation with the tourism sector, increasing value added in rural areas, creating jobs in structurally weak regions and counteracting rural migration into cities. The study is entitled "Wirtschaftliche Effekte des Tourismus in Biosphärenreservaten Deutschlands" (The economic effects of tourism on Germany's biosphere reserves - available in German only) and has been published by the Landwirtschaftsverlag in the Nature conservation and biodiversity series, issue 134, and costs 22 euro (ISBN 978-3-7843-4034-0). The study can be purchased from the  Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) via it's online publication sales point (www.buchweltshop.de/bfn).

Last update: 01.09.2014