Sea the Value: Economics of Wildlife Ecotourism in La Jolla Cove

Lily Olmo, NOAA, NMFS, La Jolla, CA, United States; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, United States and Jeffrey A Seminoff, NOAA NMFS, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, CA, United States
Wildlife ecotourism has become a popular industry in communities around the globe, particularly in protected areas. This non-consumptive use of wildlife contributes to ecosystem conservation, while also allowing communities to leverage the economic value of their natural resources. Despite the recent growth of ecotourism, the direct economic benefits are often not recognized or studied.

Here we analyze the economic benefits of marine wildlife ecotourism at a popular tourist destination, La Jolla Cove, within a southern California marine protected area (MPA). Face-to-face interviews were conducted with residents and tourists to understand visitor demographics, motivations, and willingness to pay for ecotourism services. Interviews were also conducted with local business owners to analyze the frequency and economic value of guided wildlife tourism in La Jolla Cove.

Survey responses show that visitors are driven to the La Jolla area due to the presence of local wildlife. Daily expenditures of these visitors are an average of $36 per person per day. In addition, the contingent valuation method (CVM) was utilized to measure the average willingness of visitors to pay for guided wildlife tours. The average visitor is willing to pay $58.50 for a guided wildlife tour, whereas visitors interested in certain key species are willing to pay an average of $95.11 per tour. Overall, survey data show that guided wildlife tours generate an annual revenue of at least $20.1 million for ecotourism operations in the area, contributing significantly to the local economy.

This study is the first economic analysis of wildlife tourism in La Jolla and can be continued in future years to assess changing perspectives and potential market niches. This information has the potential to enhance future wildlife ecotourism operations, as well as provide an economic incentive for the continued conservation of vital marine wildlife.