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Strategies to regulate the number of visitors to protected natural areas

Although protected natural areas tend not to set a max number of visitors, parks and reserves are sometimes saturated and must restrict entry

Although protected natural areas tend not to set a max number of visitors, parks and reserves are sometimes saturated and must restrict entry.

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LatinamericanPost| Jorge Guasp

Leer en español: Estrategias para regular la cantidad de visitantes en áreas naturales protegidas

Management objectives and number of visitors

In my article, how many visitors can a protected natural area receive? I stated that, in the Acceptable Limit of Change (LCA) scheme, "the emphasis is not placed on determining the maximum number of visitors allowed, but on measuring and managing the negative effects of their presence. Even so, when management measures (including visitor education) are not enough to achieve the expected environmental and social conditions, you can resort to reducing the number of visitors. "

Indeed, when the number of visitors threatens natural and cultural resources, infrastructure, people's safety or the tourist experience, sometimes the management measures are insufficient. A camp for fifty people, for example, cannot handle a demand of one hundred visitors, since there is only infrastructure for half that number. The same happens when visitors do not fit in a viewpoint or other tourist attraction, or a path is so crowded with people that it is impossible to walk comfortably and enjoy nature.

Alternatives to regulate the number of visitors

In extreme cases, such as that of the Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador, or Fernando de Noronha National Park, in Brazil, both World Heritage Sites, the number of visitors is limited through a maximum daily quota, and the activities that can be done on site.

Setting a maximum number of visitors, however, implies denying entry to many people, and this measure may be unpopular for some authorities. Therefore, protected area administrations often resort to deterrence strategies, rather than prohibiting entry:

  • When the entry roads to the protected area deteriorate, keeping them in poor condition constitutes a strategy of deterring potential visitors, in order to reduce their number. However, this measure may cause inconveniences between administrations that have opposite objectives: while the protected area aspires to protect its resources, it is probable that the authorities of the province or the corresponding department, instead, want an increase in tourists in their territory.
  • Prohibiting direct entry into the area by vehicle, and implementing a taxi or excursion service, or encouraging entry on foot or by bicycle (if distance permits), not only reduces the number of people arriving in the area, Due to the cost and difficulty of using alternative transportation, it also limits the speed of access and departure, and the amount of luggage that visitors can carry. This measure in turn determines the length of stay in the place, and even restricts the possibility of spending the night in the area.
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  • Although promoting less tourist circuits does not reduce the number of visitors, it does restrict their entry to the places that most want to visit (and where the most important conflicts take place); consequently, many of the potential tourists end up choosing alternative destinations, located outside the protected natural area.
  • Raising the price of admission to a natural area when the terrain is more sensitive to trampling (during the rainy or snowy season, for example), and therefore the visit is more harmful to the environment, also tends to reduce the number of visitors. In these conditions it is also feasible to seasonally close the area, particularly when the ground conditions not only compromise the preservation of the environment but also the safety of visitors.
  • Some protected natural areas, which allow visitors free entry for most of the year, choose to charge access during the tourist season, with the dual purpose of raising funds and moderating the number of visitors. This strategy is used, for example, in the Los Alerces and Lago Puelo national parks in Argentine Patagonia, although in these cases the main objective is raising funds.
  • Forcing visitors to hire guides to enter the area is also an alternative to regulate entry . Given that this hiring involves time and money, and that the number of guides is limited, the strategy indirectly reduces the number of visitors, while guaranteeing responsible behavior by tourists thanks to the supervision of the guide.

The goal is to protect the area's resources, and satisfy visitors

When the demand exceeds the capacity to host tourism, and the damages and conflicts that it causes are incompatible with the objectives of managing the natural area, the number of visitors must be reduced, directly or indirectly, in order to sustain environmental conditions and planned social events, and achieve the satisfaction of those seeking intimate contact with nature.

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