Clare Parnell on sustainable tourism

July 14, 2021

With five million visitors a year to Cornwall it’s not surprising that this can lead to pressure on infrastructure, tensions with local communities and impacts on our environment.

Managing those visitor numbers in a sustainable way is becoming increasingly important because it is the quality of the natural environment that underpins the visitor economy.

But with popularity comes the threat of ‘over-tourism’, something which the pandemic has highlighted as more people take their holidays at home instead of abroad.

Only this week the National Trust had to turn visitors away from Kynance Cove on The Lizard peninsula because it was full by lunchtime. And that’s before the start of the school holidays.

But balancing the seemingly competing needs of the visitor economy with the natural environment is not mutually exclusive.

In fact, recent research led by the University of Exeter and supported by the LEP has found that tourism and the natural environment in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly can be managed in ways that benefit both.

Two reports looking at Cornwall and Scilly separately recommend ways to develop ‘positive synergies’ between the visitor economy and the protection and enhancement of nature.

Recommendations include creating local networks with community buy-in to ensure the benefits of tourism are spread widely. These networks could support nature recovery projects, partly funded by donations from visitors.

The reports also recommend nature education for hospitality staff, allowing them to act as champions of the local environment.

Another idea is the introduction of visitor gifting to raise funds for environmental charities or projects. This could be at the point of booking, with an opt-out for those not wishing to make a contribution.

Technology can also be harnessed to improve the visitor experience and reduce the negative impacts on vulnerable environments.

On Scilly, the researchers suggest the introduction of a ‘Scilly Pledge’ that visitors would sign up to, raising awareness and appreciation of the Scilly environment while encouraging pro-nature behaviors.

There is no doubt that increased concern about the climate and ecosystem loss is fueling interest in addressing these issues at a local level. And the pandemic has highlighted the value people place on the natural environment.

Professor Jane Wills, director of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: “We know that record numbers of people are wanting to visit and at the same time, we know that it is more urgent than ever to protect and restore our precious ecosystems.

“This research project has identified new initiatives that can help us generate positive synergies between the visitor economy and nature’s recovery.”

The LEP is currently working with a range of partners to translate these research findings into positive action towards a more sustainable future. You can read the research reports here.

Clare Parnell is a farmer and agri-food specialist and chair of the LEP’s Rural Group.