The impact of invasive species on tourism
Since the first sightings of the lionfish in the Caribbean, the local marine ecosystems have experienced severe problems due to predation and competition by this invasive species. Since 2008, the lionfish problem is also present in the coastal ecosystems of the Cayman Islands. In order to manage this ecological threat, The Department of Environment (DOE) of the Cayman Islands requires both comprehensive ecological and economic information. Although ecological research on the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean region is increasing rapidly, socio-economic studies investigating the societal impact of this ecological threat are still rather lacking. This pilot study aims at providing an insight into the potential impacts of lionfish proliferation in the Cayman Islands on the tourism industry by revealing the perception of the lionfish problem by visitors to the Cayman Islands and measure the willingness to pay (WTP) of these tourists for managing this invasive species. These findings provide important information for the final calculation of the overall economic impact of lionfish on the Cayman Islands as well as providing a basis for possible funding schemes for the management of the lionfish problem.
An extensive visitor survey among 326 visitors shows that on average 60% of the respondents are in principle willing to pay (WTP) an environmental fee, managed by a nature organization, which would contribute to management of the lionfish problem. Depending on the valuation method chosen and taking into account the distinct characteristics of stay-over and cruise tourists, the total potential annual contribution of visitors for lionfish management in the Cayman Islands is determined at a minimum of USD8 million and a maximum of USD 26.3 million. From these findings we conclude that the support among visitors to manage the lionfish problem is already substantial but could be further increased by improving communication to visitors about lionfish related issues.