General background

The UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA 2005) brought the principles and framework of ecosystem services to a higher policy profile, by highlighting a way of assessing how ecosystems influence human wellbeing, along with means to support decision matters utilising additional social and economic information. Constanza et al. (1997) estimated the value of ecosystems services (ES) of the entire biosphere to be a (conservative) average of US$33 trillion per year. In this context ES are defined as the benefits humans derive either directly or indirectly from ecosystem functions (Constanza et al. 1997; Fisher 2009). Furthermore, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Study (TEEB 2010), promoted by UNEP and others, published its final reports with a compelling business case for an ES approach. These highlighted the need to incorporate ES in economic decision-making to help prevent prejudicial decisions being made to the well-being of both current and future generations by the destruction of natural capital. At the European level examples have been given in a range of case studies (European Commission May 2010).

Informing much of the intense policy making activity is a rapidly growing literature on ES which to date is mainly focused on the importance of bio-physical assets. However, a significant complementary aspect of ES is the provision of cultural services, such as educational, spiritual and aesthetic values, along with related, important opportunities for recreational activities. Unfortunately, these latter are the least understood aspects of ES (Fish 2011), and yet they are significant parts of political agendas within the EU and globally. For example, health and wellbeing benefits provided by ES can be fed back to inform research on economic values, development strategies and public policy options derived from such knowledge. Tourism and recreation can be key factors of human wellbeing (Hjalager and Flagestad 2011) and provide a key interface between the different dimensions of ES, i.e. the tangible bio-physical vs. the intangible cultural services (Gee and Burkhard 2010) and their related health and wellbeing dimensions, which is as yet an under researched theme.

This COST Action aims to address this gap in knowledge and sets out to: a) explore, challenge and develop the interdisciplinary potentials of research in the fields of tourism, recreation, wellbeing, health and ecosystem services; and b) build bridges and promote knowledge transfer between the research, practitioner and policy-making communities, both across these knowledge areas and different European regions and contexts. This will be achieved by creating a collaborative European network of research centres in the fields of tourism and health sciences in a framework of resource management based on aspects of ES.

Given these aims, the COST framework stands as the most appropriate instrument to support these goals (when compared with others like FP7 or Eureka), given that there is already a range of research happening in these topics separately (both nationally and/or EU funded), but no common platform to provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary research and capacity-building. This Action will provide such a platform, delivering the following benefits: i) the creation of a new research network that will act as a catalyst to innovate around tourism, well-being and ecosystem services by providing examples of best practice via case studies; ii) the transmission of best practice to wider groups - thereby acting as a mechanism for knowledge transfer; iii) the provision of new perspectives at an academic level as well as to practitioners and policy makers; and iv) the enhancement of a cohort of Early Career Researchers (including PhD students) across a range of disciplines reflecting the Action’s aims and the expertise of the network.

This COST Action is therefore expected to deliver a wide range of benefits that have relevance to research and policy making at international, national and local levels. This is backed (and will be facilitated) by the extensive network of research centres across Europe that have participated in (and committed to) the development of this Action, highlighting its relevance, timeliness and demand.

COST Action IS1204: Tourism, Wellbeing and Ecosystem Services (TObeWELL). The views expressed on this website are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of COST.