Travel & Tourism is pushing the boundaries of research

“This is the goose that lays the golden egg. Let’s not kill it!” says Dr Mark Spalding of The Nature Conservancy.

He’s talking about million dollar reefs. He has identified 70 across the world. But how do you assess the value of a coral reef?

When people say travel broadens the mind, they tend to mean that it changes perspectives, broadens outlooks.

But it also drives innovation. Smart, passionate people are solving problems, creating products, challenging the status quo.

Tourism is the driver behind private space travel. It’s at the forefront of development of virtual and augmented reality products. Or take the airline sector: in-flight food, full body scanners, e-tickets and loyalty points are just some of the innovations that have come from here.

Tourism can be a force for good, but it can also put strains on fragile eco-systems and communities. So what should be the foundations for innovative thinking that drive further tourism development?

Sustainability. Tourists are increasingly seeking out new, more meaningful experiences. They are becoming more demanding about the environmental credentials of businesses. Social media is accelerating this trend. New ideas that help to preserve the places and wildlife tourists want to see and offer more immersive experiences will have a high propensity for success.

Long-term thinking. Many come into the tourism sector driven by passion. That’s an important ingredient, but a long term plan with defined milestones is essential. Great ideas are easy to come up with. Great ideas that really work are much harder. Having the foundation of a well structured, long term strategy is key. This too feeds into developing sustainable, well managed businesses.

Community involvement. Local communities are often crucial to the success of tourism projects. Their buy-in and support makes all the difference. They’re joint custodians of the environments that many tourism projects are built upon. Given the right support, they’re often a source of new ideas that can really add value to a business.

Better data. Lack of information that can be used to make the right decisions is a common issue for many entrepreneurs in the travel and tourism sector. To a degree, this is about business owners spending time and money developing meaningful research methods to unlock insights for innovation. But government needs to play a role: for example by providing higher level sector statistics and helping to develop consistent ways of measuring performance that everyone can sign up to.

It was this problem — sparsity of accurate data — that the Nature Conservancy set out to solve.

On an emotional level, many feel that preserving the natural world is an inherently good thing. But if you can express the value of the natural world in harder economic terms, business and governments start to really take notice. It can be a catalyst for fundamental changes in priorities, encouraging investment and innovation.

The result was Mapping Ocean Wealth, an ambitious research project into the value of coral reefs around the world.

For the first time, a dollar value can be placed against coral reefs. The numbers are staggering. A million dollar reef is one that annually generates one million dollars of value per square kilometre.

“What’s striking is the value is everywhere,” says Dr Mark Spalding. “There are about 105 jurisdictions that have coral reefs… They’re found in Kenya, the Seychelles, the Maldives and even some of the small island nations which have big dive industries.”

“We want to encourage the industry and government to wake up and see that this is a resource we need to look after for the long term… so that these reefs keep generating the income that so many people depend upon.”

Watch The Nature Conservancy’s story >

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