Palli J., Cagnetti C., Emanuel C., Ferrari S., Filibeck G., Forte T.G.W., Franceschini C., Giorgi A., Leoni V., Poponi S., Ruggieri A., Piovesan G.
Ecotourism is increasing in protected areas but assessing its sustainability and contribution to nature conservation remains a challenging task. Guides, located at the interface between various stakeholders (park managers, local communities and tourists), can provide insight into the environmental dimension of ecotourism. However, people may perceive the value of natural ecosystems differently, according to the bio-geographical regions in which they live. In this study, 109 questionnaires (36% response rate) obtained from guides operating in protected areas of two different bio-geographical regions in Italy – the Alps (temperate) and Apennines (Mediterranean) – were analysed. All guides acknowledged the key role of protected areas and the importance of sustainable tourism for nature conservation. Differences emerged over issues such as the perception of the ecological impact of forestry or the reasons tourists choose to visit protected areas. Whereas in the temperate region ecotourism is mainly focused on the enjoyment of outdoor recreation, in the Mediterranean region, the discovery of villages and local and organic food represent relevant attractions. Guides are pivotal in raising tourist awareness of sustainability, explaining biodiversity conservation strategies and reducing ecotourism’s ecological footprint. However, findings reveals that up-to-date training in conservation ecology is necessary to achieve environmental sustainability goals.