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Mountain tourism report calls for use of big data and new technologies

Mountain tourism report calls for use of big data and new technologies
May 26, 2023

A report jointly developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAQ) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that mountain tourism accounts for between nine and 16% of all international tourist arrivals worldwide as people look to travel for sport, health and wellbeing.

The UNWTO report, ‘Understanding and Quantifying Mountain Tourism’ shows that, in 2019 alone, there were between 195 and 375 million "mountain tourists".

The report is the first of its kind and addresses the need for relevant data. It provides information to improve our understanding of mountain tourism. The study also identifies trends and provides a set of recommendations to advance the measurement of mountain tourism, including the enhancement of official tourism statistics through the use of big data and new technologies.

Mountains are home to around 1.1 billion people, some of them among the poorest and most isolated in the world.

Mountain tourism has the potential to boost the incomes of these local communities and help preserve their natural resources and culture – but the scarcity of data has made it difficult to assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of this important segment.

The combination of their geographical features, unique biodiversity and often well-preserved state has made mountains popular nature tourism destinations. Often mountains are within national parks and protected areas. The World Database on Protected Areas project of the UNEP-WCMC and the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists some 270,000 ha of protected areas, covering 16% of the earth’s surface.

According to UNWTO, measuring the volume of visitors to mountains represents the first "vital step" towards unlocking the potential of the sector.

The report calls for concerted work to help raise awareness of the socio-economic importance of tourism in mountains and targeted policies to create jobs, support small and medium sized businesses and attract green investments in infrastructure and the digitalisation of tourism services.

UNWTO secretary-general, Zurab Pololikashvili notes “when the pandemic led to lockdowns, mountains became an attractive option for travellers looking for less crowded destinations and open-air experiences.  Now, as international travel has returned, we have an opportunity to rethink    mountain tourism, its impact on natural resources and livelihoods, and how to manage it better.

"With the right data, we can better control the dispersal of visitor flows, support adequate planning, improve knowledge on visitor patterns, build sustainable products in line with consumer needs, and create suitable policies that will foster sustainable development and make sure tourism activities benefit local communities."

Based around research carried out in 46 countries, it also shows that generating economic benefits, creating opportunities for local communities and developing sustainable products are the main motivations for mountain tourism development.

A review of data compiled and aggregated by national park authorities from 94 countries worldwide allowed for an estimation of the number of people engaged in mountain activities such as ‘walking and hiking’, ‘nature tourism’ and ‘rural tourism’.

Together, the national parks included in the study recorded over 2,950 million visitors in 2019, with Asia and the Pacific accounting for the largest share (78%). China alone welcomed 1,800 million visitors to protected areas.

The sustainable development of mountain tourism was also identified as a means to help to spread tourism flows, tackle seasonality and complement existing tourist offerings.

To read the full report, click here

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