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Nature Tourism > Why Nature Tourism: Benefits > Case Study - Florida-Rethinking Tourism

Case Studies: Florida — Rethinking Tourism
Used by permission of The International Ecotourism Society

“The implementation of the statewide ecotourism/heritage tourism conceptual plan in Florida communities has been a huge job for the many parties who have helped to make the plan a reality. We are beginning to see the benefits of the plan that are a direct result of the giant efforts and actions supported at all levels: state, regional, and local. There is a ripple effect occurring in Florida communities. When one community successfully utilizes the plan, it is an inspiration and encouraging example for other communities to follow.”

Kerri Post, New Product Marketing
Department Director, VISIT FLORIDA

The “Plan”
The Plan is a conceptual model designed to help protect and promote Florida’s natural, coastal, historical, cultural and commercial tourism assets. It focuses on ways to provide sustainable and continued economic benefits to Florida and conserve valuable resources. The plan aims to improve the quality of life in Florida by encouraging a strong sense of place, community, and multicultural appreciation.


  • Tourism is Florida’s largest industry
  • In the U.S., Florida ranks second to California in total traveler-spending, with $48.07 billion generated in one year
  • The tourism industry is the main source of income for many people in Florida. Florida is a large state, containing 67 counties, of which 34 are rural
  • Rural counties make up 80 percent of Florida’s land mass
  • Florida’s southern subtropical climate is very different from its northern climate
  • The two different climates allow for increased biodiversity and thus different ecosystems within the state’s boundaries
  • Florida is world famous for the Everglades, a vast marl prairie wetland that extends for miles.
  • Florida also contains many historical sites and cultural traditions that represent the past and present influences of native and immigrant inhabitants.

Planning for ecotourism and heritage tourism

A state study concluded that a regional tourism-promotion plan could foster positive economic development in rural counties. The governor of Florida, as the Commission of Tourism chair, appointed an advisory committee with members, who represented both the public and private sector, including:

  • Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry
  • Department of Recreation and Parks
  • Department of Community Affairs
  • Department of Transportation
  • Florida Greenways Coordinating Council
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Division of Historical Resources
  • Additional representatives from other federal, state, regional, local, and private-sector associations.

Definition of ecotourism and heritage tourism

  • Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local peoples while providing a quality experience that connects the visitor to nature.
  • Responsible travel to historic and cultural sites, and activities that educate the community and visitors by connecting us to our history and culture.

Activities included in ecotourism:

  • Nature-based tours
  • Managed access to sanctuaries
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Nature-based attractions
  • Visitation to natural areas such as beaches, forests, lakes and greenways
  • Outdoor recreational activities such as hiking,canoeing, snorkeling, horseback riding, boating, diving, kayaking, biking,fishing, etc.
  • Native American reservations

Activities included in heritage tourism:

  • Museums
  • Historic sites
  • Cultural events
  • Agricultural tours
  • Architecture and engineering works
  • Native American eco/cultural sites
  • Performing arts centers
  • Festivals
  • Interpretive facilities
  • Archaeological sites
  • Cultural landscapes

The Plans Five Major Components:

  • Strategic relationships
  • Inventory
  • Protection
  • Education
  • Marketing

(1) Strategic Relationships
The strategic component developed collaboration among the many public and
private sector entities included in the ecotourism/heritage tourism industry.

Strategic Goals
Create a regional plan that links state and community initiatives and coordinates public and private sector efforts to protect and promote natural, coastal, historical, cultural and commercial resources.

Encourage the integration of ecotourism and heritage tourism into comprehensive land-use plans.

Develop necessary initiatives to provide public access while ensuring protection of ecotourism and heritage tourism assets.

Increase private sector participation in natural, coastal, historical, cultural and commercial tourism assets.

(2) Inventory
The inventories created a method for regions to identify their assets and link them to a statewide inventory. Without identifying local assets, it would be hard to protect and promote them.

Inventory Goals
Develop a list of information sources (by region) that would inventory all ecotourism and heritage tourism resources by category and division thereof.

Develop criteria that would “qualify” resources to be included on the inventory list.

Assess and improve directional and educational signage for ecotourism and heritage tourism destinations and coordinate with other programs.

Create a plan to identify additional infrastructure needed to access resources.

(3) Protection
The plan’s protection component seeks to maintain a balance between the
ecotourism/heritage tourism industry and ecosystem protection, site preservation, conservation and public access. The plan stresses the consideration of the carrying capacity of ecotourism/heritage tourism sites.

Protection Goals
Identify the government and private sector roles in maintaining ecotourism and heritage tourism guidelines.

Determine a method for management and protection guidelines.

Define “carrying capacity” and encourage the development of site-specific guidelines.

Create a model of ecotourism and heritage tourism visitor guidelines .

Create a model of guidelines for ethical behavior of tour providers .

(4) Education
The education component of the plan established goals and strategies that educate the tourism provider, visitor and community. The committee proposes that visitors and tourism providers be made aware of the place they are visiting and understand that their presence and behavior has a direct impact on
resource quality and the quality of experience for other users.

Education Goals
Develop local and regional training and credential/certification programs for ecotourism and heritage tourism providers.

Encourage and support the development of local, regional and statewide education initiatives focusing on the natural, coastal, historical, cultural and commercial tourism assets of Florida designed to inform and educate residents, visitors, government officials and the tourist industry.

Encourage and support local, regional and statewide partnerships to develop and share educational information, materials, programs, etc.

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