Ecotourism’s Economic Potential

The annual sandhill crane migration through central Nebraska's Platte Valley is an economic windfall as well as a world-class wildlife spectacle.

UNL economists Eric Thompson and Rick Edwards found that the crane migration has at least a $10.3 million annual impact on central Nebraska’s economy. Their research highlights potential economic opportunities for rural areas across the Great Plains.

"One interesting thing about ecotourism is that it has research and educational components as well as tourism," said Thompson, director of the College of Business Administration's Bureau of Business Research.

They found that many people do more than just watch the cranes. Visitors often participate in "eco-engagement," volunteering or taking education programs and staying longer. Eco-engagement adds economic value and increases conservation awareness.

To calculate the cranes’ total economic value, Thompson and Edwards estimated the impact of two of Nebraska’s conservation and research centers that focus on the spring crane migration through the region. They assessed the centers’ operational expenditures and additional spending by crane-watchers coming to the state.

Researchers found, for example, that the Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary, a nonprofit center near Gibbon, Neb., has an annual impact of $2.08 million on the region's economy − mostly from food, lodging and shopping purchases by visitors when they are away from the sanctuary.

Their findings hold promise for rural areas in Nebraska and beyond.

"There’s potential to expand this type of activity to other natural environments where you gain a lot of revenue from tourists who do eco-engagement type activities," Thompson said, such as visiting grassland prairies to view prairie chickens, bison or wildflowers.

For example, ranchers who manage their land to enhance native ecological features, such as wildlife and plants, may earn added income from ecotourists to complement their traditional cattle operation, Edwards said.

A companion study of the nonprofit Cheetah Conservation Fund showed similar economic benefits for Namibia, where ecotourism already plays a major role in developing its economy.

Javascript is not enabled for your browser or the latest flash player is not installed. Click here to download the latest player.


Associated Web Content


The 2009-2010 Annual Report is published by the
University of Nebraska−Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development. More information is available
at or contact:

Prem S. Paul
Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development
301 Canfield Administration Building
University of Nebraska−Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0433
(402) 472-3123  •

Vicki Miller, Monica Norby, Ashley Washburn, Elizabeth Banset, Office of Research and Economic Development

Contributing Writers:
Gillian Klucas, Kim Hachiya, Cara Pesek
Some articles are based on earlier stories from University Communications and IANR News Service and written by Kelly Bartling, Troy Fedderson, Sara Gilliam, Sandi Alswager Karstens, Daniel R. Moser, Judy Nelson, Tom Simons,
Steve Smith, Carole Wilbeck

Joel Brehm, Brett Hampton, Craig Chandler,
Alan Jackson/Jackson Studios, Greg Nathan,
Bruce Thorson, Robert Cope, Laurence Smith
Historic photos, page 22, courtesy Joyce Clarke Turvey

PDF/Print Design: Sym Labs

Website Design: Joel Brehm