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Coastal tourism

Read how coastal tourism affects the coastal environment and its natural and cultural resources, as well as the communities that live there.
Birds eye view of two people walking on a white sandy beach with green forest on one side and clear sea on the other

Coastal tourism – Definition

Coastal tourism is a process involving tourists and the people and places they visit. It is more specifically defined as tourism brought to bear on the coastal environment and its natural and cultural resources.

Tourists are beginning to opt for innovative activities such as coastal and marine archaeology, subaquatic tourism and culinary traditions.

Coastal and maritime tourism originates as an activity in the 19th century and this has persisted since. The extraordinary beauty, cultural wealth and great diversity coastal areas have made them the preferred destination for many holidaymakers. Coastal tourism refers to land-based tourism activities including swimming, surfing, sun bathing and other coastal recreation activities taking place on the coast for which the proximity to the sea is a condition including also their respective services. Maritime tourism refers to sea-based activities such as boating, yachting, cruising, nautical sports as well as their land-based services and infrastructures (Ecorys, 2013)

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.

Coastal tourism – Opportunities

Tourism specifically aims to contribute towards the following global goals:

  • SDG 8.9: implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products
  • SDG 12.b: develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products
  • SDG 14.7: increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries

Given that many tourists are naturally drawn to coastal environments, there are a diverse opportunities to offer sustainable, regenerative experiences, which enhance the local community as well as the ocean environment.

Tourism experiences can draw on indigenous knowledge which is often particularly strong around the use of the ocean – this can include paddling, sailing, navigating, fishing and harvesting. The experiences can also draw on modern scientific knowledge of the oceans with a fascinating educational component. Tourism activities can be purely fun, relaxing or athletic. They can be observational (eg to watch birds and wildlife) or very active (eg sea kayaking) or a combination.

Coastal tourism – Global context

Coastal tourism is by far the most significant in terms of tourist flows and income generation. Among tourist destinations, coastal areas are often preferred by tourists.

In a global context coastal and maritime tourism covers a huge variety of eco systems – from isolated islands to huge cities by the beach; from exclusive upmarket resorts, to basic beachside camping. Coastal and marine tourism represents at least 50 percent of total global tourism. It constitutes the largest economic sector for most small island developing states and many coastal states. Securing the long-term sustainability and viability of this sector is critical for the continued prosperity of the destinations and communities that rely on it.

Coastal and marine tourism is highly dependent on the quality of coastal and marine ecosystems to attract visitors—and it is extremely vulnerable to threats such as climate change and biodiversity loss. A healthy ocean is therefore the foundation upon which this sector is able to thrive. Ensuring the long-term health of the ocean is critical to support the local communities and economies which rely on the tourism industry.

A sustainable, regenerative and resilient coastal and marine tourism sector has the potential to be the foundation for a sustainable ocean economy—delivering on the vision for protection, production and prosperity—by stimulating new high quality economic opportunities for local communities, restoring the natural environment and revitalising culture and heritage.

Global Trends in coastal tourism The most destructive elements of coastal resort tourism development is land clearance and habitat degradation, while the daily operations of resort facilities consume natural resources and pollute waterways. Among the other impacts, visitors to coastal tourism destinations spur a demand for fresh seafood that can generate tremendous strains on already-stressed fisheries, while unwieldy volumes of cruise passengers can damage coral reefs and other sensitive coastal habitat. (p9)

Ecotourism, which is typically small-scale and low impact, aims to provide tangible benefits to communities and conservation. However, the use of the sea for such diverse purposes is at the origin of increasing pressure, namely:

  • Competition for space, which leads to conflicts between various activities (fishing, services, agriculture)
  • The degradation of the natural ecosystems that support coastal areas, especially due to the impact of climate change
  • Large seasonal variations in population and employment – seasonality is felt particularly strongly in coastal communities which are typically viewed as summer destinations. Developing meaningful reasons to visit in the shoulder and colder seasons will be key to the long-term sustainability of the sector. .
  • Increasing tourist flows in coastal areas, especially in the form of tourism associated with new concerns about their potential repercussions.
  • Negative impacts on regional development from an environmental, economic and social point of view. The cruise sector can be seen as quite controversial in particular. While a lot of work is being done by some companies to make cruise ships for sustainable, they have a long way to go. Bringing thousands of people to small destinations has a significant impact which is not always viewed positively.

Coastal tourism – New Zealand context

The maritime area around New Zealand plays a significant role in the tourism industry, both as a draw for international tourists and as a place for domestic tourists to visit. The New Zealand maritime area has an abundance of beautiful natural environments and marine species. In many cases these maritime areas contain things which are unique in the world, which draws tourists from New Zealand and around the world.

It is likely that almost every international tourist that visits New Zealand will undertake some activities in the maritime area during their visit (including viewing scenery). Similarly, a large proportion of domestic tourism is also likely to occur near the coast and revolve around the maritime area.

Tourism is New Zealand’s largest industry and one that is rapidly growing. The sector directly contributed $15.9 billion to GDP in 2018, which is equivalent to 6.1% of the New Zealand’s economy. The tourism industry directly sustained employment of 216,000, which is 8% of the total employment in the country.

Coastal tourism – Areas of interest

  • Marine wildlife tourism (especially whale and dolphin watching)
    • Dive! Tutukaka, Northland, the Poor Knights Islands
    • Dolphin Seafaris, Tauranga
    • Abel Tasman Eco Tours
    • Waka Abel Tasman
    • Marahau Sea Kayaks
    • Farewell Spit Tours, Golden Bay
    • Whale Watch, Kaikoura
    • Okarito Kayaks
    • Real NZ, Fiordland and Stewart Island
  • Land-based marine attractions, including aquaria, marine parks, and maritime museums
    • National Aquarium of NZ, Napier
    • The Antarctic Centre, Christchurch
  • Visitor management
    • East by West Ferries, Wellington
    • The cruise ship industry
  • Conservation through education
    • Island tourism, development, impacts, community benefits
    • The (environmental) impacts of tourism and recreation in marine environments, and sustainable options

Coastal tourism – Careers & case studies

Below is a list of interviews with people who work in coastal tourism careers and case studies to help expand your view of this topic. You do NOT need to read them all, however we recommend you select 2 or more of the topics that interest you, and use the provided links (or your own internet search) to investigate further:

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