Panama City, Panama (March 3, 2023) — Today, world leaders voiced their support for a shift towards sustainable coastal and marine tourism to protect the ocean and the livelihoods of those who directly rely on it.  

In a joint statement issued by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), member countries* highlight the critical relationship between a thriving tourism industry and the health of the ocean and its ecosystems that attract visitors.  

A recent Ocean Panel-commissioned report found that coastal and marine tourism represents at least 50 percent of all global tourism. For most small island developing states and many coastal states, it is the largest economic sector. However, this industry is extremely vulnerable to climate change and biodiversity loss. Without action to address these destructive threats, the long-term future of this critical sector hangs in the balance.  

Economic gains from tourism are not distributed equally, with large foreign companies and tour operators typically receiving disproportional benefits compared to local communities. This inequality is exacerbated by the sector’s economic vulnerability, with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacting local communities who depend on tourism for their livelihoods.  

Today, members of the Ocean Panel call on governments and tourism operators and other stakeholders in the sector to take action that promotes a renewed focus on new high-quality economic opportunities for local communities, restoring the natural environment and revitalizing cultural heritage. Through this approach, tourism has the potential to be a key pillar in the transformation to a sustainable ocean economy.  

In the statement, Ocean Panel countries reaffirmed their commitment to the goal that by 2030 ‘coastal and ocean-based tourism is sustainable, resilient, addresses climate change, reduces pollution, supports ecosystem regeneration and biodiversity conservation, and invests in local jobs and communities’.  

Achieving this goal requires governments and tourism operators to act across the following areas:   

  • Tackling inequality through investment in regenerative tourism 
  • Strategies that advance environmental, social and economic priorities  
  • Supporting local and Indigenous communities  
  • Implementing nature-based solutions in tourism infrastructure
  • Investing in sewage and wastewater infrastructure  

Today at the Our Ocean Conference in Panama City, members of the Ocean Panel joined industry leaders to share examples of how countries are creating a more sustainable, regenerative and resilient coastal and marine tourism sector.

The Ocean Panel is the only ocean policy body made up of serving heads of state with the authority needed to trigger, amplify and accelerate action worldwide for ocean priorities. Member countries are: Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, France*, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States of America.

Since launching in 2018, Ocean Panel member countries have joined together to realize the mission of sustainably managing 100% of the ocean area under national jurisdictions. Management of marine areas beyond national waters is currently being negotiated at the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (BBNJ) conference at the UN headquarters in New York. Today’s statement comes on the final day of talks to create a legally binding treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity within the high seas.

“Tourism is a critical economic industry for Palau and many other small island developing states and coastal states. In Palau, we understand our environment supports the marine life, terrain, flora and fauna that attract tourists. Additionally, as a people, we have known for a millennium that our very existence relies on healthy lands and ocean. As such, we have taken steps to promote preservation that also supports a robust and sustainable economy. However, we can’t do it alone. The future of our people and our economy continues to be severely threatened by the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. While we are grateful that other nations are taking action, we must build momentum globally and encourage more countries to switch to sustainable models that serve to protect and regenerate the natural environment as well as the communities and cultures on which the tourism industry depends.”
Surangel S. Whipps Jr, President of Palau and Co-Chair of the Ocean Panel

“Marine and coastal tourism is one of the largest sectors in the ocean economy. It represents more than half of all global tourism and provides a vital source of employment for millions worldwide. However, the activities in the sector can also lead to negative impact on animal health and natural resources, and emissions that contribute to climate change. The tourism sector must be made truly sustainable – for people and for the planet. That is the only way we can safeguard the future of the industry."
Jonas Gahr Støre, Prime Minister of Norway and Co-Chair of the Ocean Panel  

“Coastal tourism depends on thriving nature so it’s decline is a risk to the business bottom line. Yet so often a tourism group doesn’t know the scope of solutions or have capacity to tackle coastal protection and restoration in a meaningful way. At Iberostar we aim to demonstrate coastal protection can be integrated into the business at scale when it is scientifically informed and internally adopted and implemented alongside public-private support.”
Megan Morikawa, Global Director of Sustainability at Iberostar Group

Notes to editors

*Ocean Panel member country France expressed support for this declaration but were not able to endorse this statement prior to the 8th Our Ocean Conference.

About the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy
The members of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) lead nations of highly diverse oceanic, economic and political perspectives. Driven by a commitment to partnership, shared knowledge and science-informed policy, the Ocean Panel aims to advance the values underpinning a sustainable ocean economy—effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity.  
In December 2020, the Ocean Panel launched the ‘Transformations for a Sustainable Ocean Economy: A Vision for Protection, Production and Prosperity’ which included an ambitious goal for coastal and marine tourism, that by 2030 ‘Coastal and ocean-based tourism is sustainable, resilient, addresses climate change, reduces pollution, supports ecosystem regeneration and biodiversity conservation and invests in local jobs and communities’.   

For more information visit and @OceanPanel on social media.