Coastal Tourism

Create long-term opportunities for coastal tourism through sustainable practices and effective environmental protection.

The travel and tourism industry is the nation's largest employer and second-largest contributor to the U.S. gross domestic product, generating over $700 billion annually. Coastal tourism and recreation comprise the largest and fastest-growing sector of the U.S. service industry, accounting for 85% of all tourism-related revenues.

Many coastal communities depend on healthy coastal ecosystems and clean coastal waters for their survival. Yet rapidly growing coastal populations, increasing numbers of visitors (180 million annually), and unsustainable coastal development are degrading the water quality and destroying the habitats that are the main attractions of coastal areas. Although tourism and recreation-related development are major factors shaping the use and management of U.S. ocean and coastal resources, this sector has not been regarded as requiring policy, management, planning, and resources. The federal government can help tribes and states, which have key roles in managing coastal tourism, achieve their goals of protecting vital coastal ecosystems while promoting economic growth and economic stability.

Ongoing Concerns

  • Federal efforts to help tribal, state, and local partners promote and implement sustainable practices for coastal recreation and tourism are fragmented or limited.
  • There is no systematic data collection on the magnitude, value, and impacts of coastal tourism and recreation, which should be the foundation of sound planning and sustainable management.
  • Federal efforts to educate tourists and recreational users about safe and sustainable use of coastal resources are expanding, but the lack of coordination and resources significantly limits progress, and key opportunities are missed.
  • Current financial and technical resources available to federal, tribal, state, and local entities are inadequate to effectively manage and safeguard many of the coastal and marine protected areas and other tourism and recreation resources (e.g., national marine sanctuaries, national and state parks, city beaches) that are the foundation of coastal tourism and recreation.
  • There are too few areas for marine tourism use.


  • Collect and provide access to information on the magnitude, value, and impacts of ocean and coastal recreation and tourism, including information on a coastal-county basis and studies on the dynamics of tourism in coastal and marine areas.
  • Build on existing groups to coordinate relevant federal, tribal, state, and other programs dealing with ocean and coastal resource management to foster a sustainable tourism industry.
  • Mobilize public/private partnerships to develop coordinated and effective policies and public outreach programs related to coastal recreation and tourism.
  • Provide guidance and technical assistance to tribal, state, community, and private-sector partners to help them sustainably manage coastal recreation and tourism.
  • Evaluate current federal, tribal, state, and local programs related to recreation and tourism, and develop best management practices as part of general guidelines for managing sustainable recreation and tourism industries in the nation's coastal zones.
  • Working with tribal, state, and local governments, create new areas for sustainable marine tourism, and provide access to these areas.

For more information


In South Florida, the environment is the economy. A recent study found that over 2.3 million visitors spent $1.6 billion in 1997 on recreation and tourism in the Florida Keys. The total economic impact of the visitors was $ 2.9 billion in output/sales, $1.7 billion in income, and almost 28,000 jobs. Ninety-four percent of all recreating visitors were concerned about protecting the environment of the Florida Keys.