What is ecotourism? Webster’s Dictionary indicates that the first known use of the term dates to 1982, only 30 years ago. Webster's defines it as "The practice of touring natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact." Nationally, ecotourism encompasses a wide range of outdoor recreation activities with far reaching economic benefits. Outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion annually to the nation’s economy and supports nearly 6.5 million jobs across the United States.1 In Florida, "ecotourism" includes a diverse mix of activities, including cycling, camping, fishing, hunting, paddling, hiking, birding, visiting scenic byways, and other wildlife viewing. This web page explores why ecotourism is big business that creates jobs for Florida’s citizens.
Trails and Scenic Byways
The combined benefit of all Florida state trails is $95 million to their host communities.2 The three trails located in Orange County contribute $42.6 million to the local economy and create 516 jobs.3 In North Florida, the St. Marks Trail in Tallahassee provides a $1.9 million economic benefit to Tallahassee businesses.4 The Pinellas Trail in Dunedin, Florida is another success story. Downtown Dunedin was transformed with the arrival of the trail, with a pre-trail vacancy rate of 35% which rocketed to a 100% post-trail occupancy rate, with a waiting list.5 Dunedin’s economic development director describes the trail as an “economic engine”. The Florida Scenic Highways program provides a roadway link to Florida’s natural and scenic resources.
Florida's experience with trails is not unique. Communities with regional or statewide trail systems from coast to coast are reaping the economic benefits and jobs brought by such facilities. For example, the Great Allegheny Passage is a 132-mile trail that runs from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Local business revenue due to the trail grew from $32.6 million in 2007 to $40.6 million in 2008. Notably, this growth occurred despite the economic downturn.6
Florida has recognized the job creating potential of trails and is working to create a statewide system of greenways and trails. See the following websites for more Florida trail and scenic byway information:
National and State Parks
Florida is home to 12 national parks, perhaps the most well known of which are the Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas National Parks. The combined effect of these 12 national parks is enormous. Together, Florida’s national parks are home to 54 threatened and endangered species. The diversity of the State’s wildlife attracts tourists and creates jobs. They attracted 9.2 million visitors in 2010 and produced a $552.8 million economic benefit in 2009.7 Visitors to the Everglades contributed $132 million to the local economy in 1998, and helped to create over 5,000 new jobs.8 While this park specific study is now 14 years old and is dated, it still demonstrates the magnitude of the positive economic impact produced by just a single national park.
Florida’s 160 state parks also bring a significant positive economic benefit to local economies, with a total of 20.4 million visitors in 2011. The total statewide economic impact of all Florida state parks was $967.3 million in 2011, and the parks created 19,347 jobs.9 The annual economic impact of and jobs created by the State’s four largest springs are as follows:10
- Ichetucknee Springs - $22.7 million and 311 jobs
- Wakulla Springs - $22.2 million and 347 jobs
- Homosassa Springs - $13.6 million and 206 jobs
- Volusia Blue Springs - $10.0 million and 174 jobs
Florida’s tourism industry is frequently thought of only in terms of theme parks and beaches. This aspect of the tourism industry is obviously extremely important, but ecotourism is also a major reason that tourists visit Florida. For example, the graph below compares 2010 attendance at Florida’s national and state parks with some of the State’s major theme parks.11 The combined attendance at Florida’s state parks exceeded any other attraction, while the national parks ranked sixth.
Long Description of Graph: In 2010, almost 17 million persons visited the Magic Kingdom; almost 11 million visited Epcot; almost 10 million visited the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios each; almost 6 million visited the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios each; over 5 million visited SeaWorld; over 4 million visited Busch Gardens; over 9 million visited Florida’s national parks and over 20 million visited Florida's state parks.
Source: Department of Economic Opportunity
The total spent on wildlife viewing in Florida in 2006 was $1.23 billion, with a total economic effect of $5.2 billion. Also, wildlife viewing creates over 51,000 jobs, almost as many as Walt Disney World.12 Florida also hosts a variety of wildlife festivals that bring economic activity, including the following:
- 2003 Wakulla Springs Birding and Wildlife Festival - $66,224 economic impact13
- 2001 Panhandle Birding and Wildlife Conference - $171,245 economic impact14
- 2009 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival - $996,679 economic impact15
Given Florida's lengthy coastline, plentiful freshwater lakes, and national parks, fishing is an obvious strength in the state's ecotourism tool box. Statewide, recreational saltwater fishing is worth over $5 billion and creates over 50,000 jobs to Florida's economy. Similarly, the statewide impact of freshwater fishing is over $2 billion and creates over 24,000 jobs. The associated impacts of the boating industry contribute an additional $18 billion, creating over 220,000 jobs.16 In the Everglades region alone, the total economic impact from fishing enthusiasts is $1.2 billion.17
Hunters created a total economic benefit of $714.6 million to the Florida economy in 2001, and supported 7,338 jobs.18 Based on only retail sales, hunting within U.S. Forest Service lands added $180.6 million to Florida's economy in 2003, and supported 3,320 retail-related jobs.19
Ecotourism - Big Business Across the State
The figures referenced above come from a variety of studies which measured the statewide impact of ecotourism. But what does ecotourism look like for a business on the ground, from day to day? A quick search of the web for the words, "Florida ecotourism business" is revealing. It results in a diverse list of local, job creating businesses that provide a host of services, including kayak trips, photography trips, birding trips, nature tours, outfitters, cruises, guide services, bed and breakfasts, and many others. Florida's natural environment provides the means for an array of medium and small businesses to create jobs in communities throughout the State. The University of Florida's report, "Ecotourism in Florida, Letting Nature Work For You", provides a series of case studies that profile local ecotourism businesses.
- "The Active Outdoor Recreation Economy", Outdoor Industry Foundation, Fall 2006.
- "Economic Benefits of Trails", Florida Office of Greenways & Trails, No Date.
- "Economic Impact Analysis of Orange County Trails", East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, 2011.
- "Benefits of Non-Motorized Trails", Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, No Date.
- "Economic Benefits of Trails", ConservationTools.org, No Date.
- "The Great Allegheny Passage Economic Impact Study", Campos Inc., August 7, 2009.
- "Working with Florida", National Park Service, National Park Service - Florida, No Date.
- "The Economic Benefits of Trails", American Hiking Society, No Date.
- "About Florida State Parks and Trails", Florida State Parks - About Florida State Parks, No Date.
- "Economic Impact of Selected Florida Springs on Surrounding Local Areas", Florida Department of Environmental Protection, April 10, 2003.
- "The 2010 Global Attractions Attendance Report", Themed Entertainment Association, 2010.
- "The 2006 Economic Benefits of Wildlife-Viewing Recreation in Florida", Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, February 27, 2008.
- "The Economic Impact of the Florida Wakulla Springs Birding and Wildlife Festival", Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, FSU, 2003.
- "The Economic Impact of the Florida Panhandle Birding and Wildlife Conference", Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, FSU, 2001.
- "Birding Economics", FloridaBirdingTrail.com, No Date.
- "The Economic Impact of Saltwater Fishing in Florida", Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, No Date.
- "The Economic Impact of Recreational Fishing in the Everglades Region", The Everglades Foundation, December 2009.
- "Economic Importance of Hunting in America", International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, 2002.
- "State and National Economic Impacts of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Related Recreation on U.S. Forest Service-Managed Lands", U.S. Forest Service, January 23, 2006.