Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable Tourism

Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the MAR, with diving and coastal tourism as the principal socio-economic drivers in the majority of sites in the region. In response to the demands of increasing numbers of tourists, many destinations experience rapid growth and development of coastal infrastructure and marine recreation activities. Additionally, the region has seen exponential growth of cruise ship tourism in recent years, bringing an estimated 6 million tourists to Mesoamerica in 2004 alone.

Naturally, the rapid growth of tourism has not only led to the growth in labor market, but also to the change in its trends. Now such jobs as tour managers and tour guides have become much more popular and in demand than before. It can be seen even in growing number of available tourism related vacancies – for example, you can find more than 200 000 available jobs for tour managers and tour guides on Jooble.

While this growth in tourism development and associated activities has brought economic benefits to communities throughout the MAR, the area has simultaneously seen an increase in negative impacts to reef resources, including pollution, over-fishing, improper sewage disposal, and irresponsible marine recreation activities. Stakeholders in the tourism industry have the potential to identify and implement best practices and models of sustainability that channel the resources of this sector in support of coral reef conservation and protection.

To minimise negative impacts of tourism activities on coral reefs and enhance economic benefits and ecological services that reefs provide, this component set out to:

  • Facilitate a stakeholder led process of standards development for scuba diving, snorkeling, boat operations and beach front activities.
  • Engage stakeholders to test and implement voluntary standards and a code of conduct throughout the MAR.
  • Create lasting and effective conservation alliances that fundamentally improve relationships between the private sector and marine protected area managers.
  • Develop business to business linkages throughout the tourism supply chain that support best environmental business practices.

Through the project, partners of the tourism component facilitated a stakeholder-led process in the marine tourism industry, resulting in the development of comprehensive conservation and safety standards for marine recreation activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling and boating operations. Over 300 stakeholders in the region benefited from these activities.

The standards and voluntary code of conduct have received unanimous support throughout the region, and partners carried out a testing program to measure the effectiveness of these conservation tools. This was complete din December 2007. Marine recreation providers in each of the four MAR countries will assessed their business performance based on the requirements of the standards, identifying both strengths and gaps in environmental performance and sustainable business practices. Work continues with this, as the standards are now being examined for potential for replication throughout the region and elsewhere. While tremendous progress in securing buy-in to the process of standards development and implementation was achieved, it also became clear that it will require several years of work in the region to ensure widespread adoption of the standards and code of conduct.

The tourism component of the project is being built upon through the Conservation International Mesoamerican Reef Tourism Initiative (MARTI) project, currently being conducted in the region.


Project partners provided technical and financial assistance for stakeholder-led initiatives through a small grants programme, such as mooring buoy projects, marine protected area infrastructure improvements, and local train the trainers programs in sustainable business practices. In concert with the continuing standards implementation program, stakeholders are developing partnerships and alliances at the local level to implement conservation initiatives, which promote adoption of the standards and code of conduct, and increase private sector support for marine protected areas.

The following index provides the main outputs from the Sustainable Tourism project component.



  • Dive operators in Placencia, Belize, undertake a mooring buoy project to protect the reef from anchor damage. Learn about what the ‘Placencia Masters’ are doing.
  • Coral holds workshop on Sustainable Marine Recreation in the City of San Pedro, Belize
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