Improving levels of tourism

The role of greenspace in urban tourism, and its impact on economic, social and environmental regeneration in urban settings, lacks recognition and represents an unrealised potential within the UK. Research on this subject will promote its value and generate knowledge to enable planners and providers to integrate tourism objectives and activities into urban economic, social and environmental regeneration plans and projects. Tourism is currently the UK’s fourth largest industry, and is likely to continue growing. The UK population continues to be centred in urban areas, so the relationship between urban visitors and their use of and relationship with urban greenspace will be ever more important in terms of policy, planning and management issues.


The most widely accepted definition of tourism in the UK is that of the Tourism Society:

‘tourism is the temporary, short term movement of people to destinations outside the places where they normally live and work, and activities during their stay at these destinations; it includes movement for all purposes, as well as day visits or excursions’.

Tourism has developed into one of the world’s most important industries, with more than 846 million international tourist trips globally in 2006 (World Tourism Organisation). It is also one of the fastest-growing sectors of the UK economy, worth £85 billion in 2005 and employing some 2 million people (Star UK). As a result, tourism is associated with the injection of revenue into national, regional and local economies. Visits support jobs in enterprises providing products and services directly aimed at tourists, for example bed and breakfast accommodation, and those with a broader customer base, for example food and drink, transport and outdoor recreation providers. Although there can be conflicts of need, the sector supports services that provide for local people as well as visitors, and can make a broad contribution to the well-being of local communities.

At the time of the most recent (2001) census, 80% of Britain’s population lived in urban areas (Office for National Statistics). In 2006, 49.6 million overnight trips in the UK were to friends and relatives (Star UK). Research in Canada indicates that 85% of visitors to cities visit greenspace and parklands while away from home (Green Tourism Association, 2002).

Realising this, the potential links between tourism and urban greenspace become apparent. It is known that high-quality greenspace can support the success of the tourism industry by encouraging visits through the creation of attractive destination and enterprise imagery, and the provision of spaces in which activities, for example walking and wildlife watching, may be pursued. In urban areas, greenspace tourism can be used to support existing businesses and create new enterprises (and associated employment and skills development) in places that have experienced, or are vulnerable to, economic decline. Greenspace tourism is a means for delivering economic regeneration and sustaining economic prosperity.

Practical considerations

While there is little current research specific to urban greenspace and tourism in the UK, local, regional and national tourism managers are increasingly aware of the potential, and parallels may be drawn from work on rural tourism. In the Netherlands and Canada, there are active links between urban tourism and economic regeneration.

In the UK, little is known about how greenspaces contribute to tourism-related economic regeneration in urban areas, and how policy-makers, planners and greenspace providers can work to promote that role. There is much research concerning the relationship between, and benefits for, urban greenspace and local communities (for example Environment Canada, 1991; CABE Space, 2004; Chiesura, 2004), and this work could be enhanced by making specific links to the role and impacts of tourism in UK urban development and regeneration policies, and its impact on society, livelihoods and environments.

There is a need to understand how urban greenspace can support tourism by providing spaces for art and culture, play and relaxation, sport, wildlife-watching, events and celebrations. It is equally important to understand how visitors use urban greenspace as a social space. Visitors are becoming more demanding and want to ‘feel like a local, and go where residents go ... in terms of open spaces, the overseas visitor wants to go where locals go to engage with them’ (Welch, 2004). There is little research to show the relationship between urban visitors and host communities, the common greenspaces in which they interact, and the values placed on these spaces. Research should be undertaken in the UK (informed by understanding developed in countries such as the Netherlands) concerning the regenerative role of urban greenspace tourism and on issues surrounding the localised cultural values inherent in urban greenspace that may be enhanced or undermined by visitors.

It is also important to generate knowledge about the role of greenspace corridors and networks in creating sustainable transport links (for example, walking and cycle routes), which enable and encourage visitors to travel within and between tourism areas, while also being valuable assets for local communities and biodiversity in urban areas.

Case studies

The Falkirk Wheel, Central Scotland

The Falkirk Wheel forms part of the Millennium Link Canal Corridor Development Project. It aimed to restore navigability across Scotland on the historic Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, and provide a corridor of regenerative activity through Central Scotland.

The Falkirk Wheel is an innovative piece of contemporary engineering linking the two canals, which have a difference in height of 35 metres. Associated with it are a viewing gallery and exhibition, trails, café and boat trips. The wheel opened in 2002 and has been named as Scotland’s most successful tourist attraction. The project has brought a large number of tourists and economic investment into the area. Further work will seek to spread the success of the wheel along the canal network, widening the distribution of tourism and economic benefits. The environmental improvements made to the area and its associated improved image will encourage businesses and households to locate in the area.

The National Forest, Central England

The National Forest is located in the heart of England. Spanning 200 square miles, it covers parts of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, including the industrialised Trent Valley and the former Leicestershire and South Derbyshire Coalfield. The aim is to restore and expand existing ancient woodlands and to use this resource as a driver for social and economic regeneration and environmental improvement to the area. Among other activities, the forest provides a place for recreation and tourism, and is stimulating local economic development.

The tourism destination management organisation North-West Leicestershire Promotions is using the National Forest as ‘a distinctive visitor story and a cohesive strategy that will link all the tourism attractions and tourism providers in North-West Leicestershire and beyond’ (Morris and Urry, 2006). Tourism providers are also using their location within the National Forest to attract visitors.



The Forest Research Social and Economic Research Group carries out a range of work across the urban and rural continuum. One of the key research themes of the Group is community diversity and development.

Further information

CABE Space (2004). The Value of Public Space: how high quality parks and public spaces create economic, social and environmental value.  CABE Space, London.

Chiesura, A. (2004). The role of urban parks for the sustainable city. Landscape and Urban Planning 68, 129–138.

Environment Canada (1991). Community Greenspaces Are Worth Money.  Environment Canada, Canada.

Green Tourism Association (2002). Urban Green Tourism: industrial and labour market opportunities in the Toronto region. Green Tourism Association, Canada.

Lerner, S. and Poole, W. (1999). The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space: how land conservation helps communities grow and protect the bottom line. Trust for Public Land, San Francisco, CA, USA.

Welch, S. (2004). Soul in the City: cultural tourism and urban space. Conference report. Tourism Society, Sutton.