Humpback Whales in Tonga: An Economic Resource for Tourism
The growth of whale-watching internationally has been spectacular. It now occurs in almost 100 countries and is estimated to be worth in excess of U.S.$1 billion each year in revenue. Thus, whales have become valuable as a resource for tourism. The Vava'u island group in the northern part of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific is an area with a growing reputation as a whale-watching destination. However, the industry is relatively new there and the impacts of whale-based tourism in these islands is, as yet, unknown. In addition, there has been a recent consideration of a return to hunting whales in Tonga. As a result, concerns regarding the value of these animals for tourism and the potential impact of a return to hunting have arisen. Consequently, a study was designed to provide a preliminary assessment of the economic impacts of these animals for the island community. This study estimates that humpback whales may be worth in excess of U.S.$700,000 annually as a tourism attraction and that there is significant potential for future growth. Furthermore, the study shows that current visitors are opposed to any resumption of whaling practices in the islands and that such a move would likely displace large numbers of tourists from Tonga. Thus, it is concluded that a resumption of whaling in Tonga would likely have a significant opportunity cost in terms of lost tourism revenues.
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