The Nature of Tourism
Birders, cyclists, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts flock to Delaware for fun. A savvy group of outfitters, state agencies and marketers are hoping to parlay that activity into something more.
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Though Delaware does not calculate the contribution of ecotourism to the state economy specifically, travel and tourism generated an estimated $1.2 million in revenues in 2004. That revenue directly supported almost 23,000 full-time jobs, making tourism the fifth largest industry in the state.
The potential for increasing nature tourism in Delaware is impressive. According to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife watching increased 13 percent from 1996 to 2006. The number of people who observe wildlife is now double that of anglers and nearly six times that of hunters. Wildlife watching generates revenues equal to those generated by all spectator sports, amusement parks and arcades, non-hotel casinos, bowling centers and skiing facilities combined, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Ecotourism is not a fad,” says Cindy Small, executive director of Kent County Tourism. “It’s really a lifestyle, and it was a niche that was begging to be satisfied.”
Nature-based tourism is not just about wildlife watching. It also refers to cycling, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, kiteboarding and other types of low-impact outdoor recreation. “We have just begun to massage nature-based tourism opportunities in Delaware,” Small says.
Delaware started to push nature-based tourism around 1996, says Jim Falk, associate director of the Delaware Sea Grant Program. After that first surge, nature-based tourism took a backseat to other efforts until Delmarva Low Impact Tourism Experiences came along. DLITE was formed in Maryland in the 1990s to promote ecotourism across the peninsula. Delaware became involved in the early part of this decade. “With DLITE, we are beginning to see another surge for nature-based tourism,” Falk says. “We’ll see if we can make this an income generator.”
Executive director Jim Rapp calls DLITE an economic development organization. It works with partners in the public and private sector to create an economic reason to preserve natural and historic areas on the Delmarva Peninsula.
“DLITE founder Buddy Jenkins saw that ecotourism was coming along,” Rapp says. “He also recognized that because of the way the peninsula is divided up politically, we would need to work together across state and county boundaries to package trips regionally for the long-distance cyclist, the kayaker and the birder. We’ve done a good job in Delaware of preserving natural spaces and history. Linking those together and publicizing those resources online is the next wave for bringing in tourists to see what Delaware has to offer.”
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