Is the Great Barrier Reef Experiencing a Last-Chance Tourism Boom?
Photo via Wikimedia
The allure of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is undeniable, but these days it's not the destination's beauty so much as it is its depressing decline that's attracting tourists.
A new study published this month shows that a majority of visitors to the 1,400-plus-mile-long ecosystem are inspired to do so because of its limited lifespan. A survey published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism found that 69 percent of tourists are drawn to the natural wonder because of the strong potential for it to vanish in coming years.
Essentially, people want to see it while they still can.
"Our research suggests that the ailing health of the Great Barrier Reef has in fact given tourists a new reason to visit, albeit one that doesn't exactly promise a long-term future," wrote authors Annah Piggott-McKellar and Dr. Karen McNamara, both of Australia's University of Queensland.
Survey respondents were asked to rate the importance of 15 potential reasons for their trip on a Likert scale (0 meaning not at all and 4 meaning extremely), and "to see the reef before it is gone" turned out to be the fourth-strongest motivating factor, trailing only "to discover new places and things," "to rest and relax" and "to get away from the demands of everyday life."
Piggott-McKellar and McNamara point out that threats to Queensland, Australia's iconic reef system include "coastal development, agricultural run-off, tourism, port development, dredging, fishing and climate change," adding that the ecosystem is projected to collapse by the year 2100.
Although the reef's seemingly impending doom is one of its biggest draws, it remains to be seen if the last-chance tourism boom will spur meaningful preservation efforts.
Currently, Great Barrier Reef tourism is a huge industry, attracting millions of visitors, supplying 65,000 full-time jobs and contributing more than $5 billion annually to Australia's economy.
Just this year U.S. News & World Report named the Great Barrier Reef the world's top vacation destination.
More by Patrick Clarke
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