In depth industry papers on shark tourism are a must read. Isla Holbox in Mexico has rapidly become a test bed for sustainable tourism with sharks. A new paper is now out.
The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is the world's largest fish and forms predictable seasonal aggregations at several locations worldwide, which has led to an explosion in whale shark tourism since the early 1990’s. Since 2002, Holbox has established itself as a gateway to the largest known predictable aggregations of whale sharks in the world. It has also experienced the largest growth in terms of visitation and number of licensed tour operators creating an industry worth approximately US$2.72 million in 2008. This rapid growth, along with the whale shark’s listing on the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species has led to concerns of the industry’s sustainability in the long-term.
This study was initiated to understand the sustainability of Holbox’s whale shark tourism industry from a social and economic perspective. Tour participants were surveyed regarding their overall satisfaction with their experience, as well as their knowledge of, and compliance with, the interaction regulations. Eighty-five percent of participants were day tourists from mass tourism destinations like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Approximately thirty percent of the economic gain from the activity is derived off the Island, while on-Island income goes dominantly to two large vertically-integrated operators who are able to bring in visitors directly from the mainland.
Overall, participants experienced high levels of satisfaction but found crowding to be a problem with thirty-three percent dissatisfied with the number of boats. Furthermore, the language barrier between the guides and the tourists resulted in a misunderstanding of the interaction regulations in place to protect the whale sharks and tourists and resulted in a high level of contact with the sharks. The outputs of this study will help inform the future sustainability of the industry, as this relies not only on a returning, healthy population of whale sharks, but also on a satisfied customer base.
Link to report.