Economic benefits from non-extractive activities such as nature tourism and recreation boost local and regional economies, providing income and employment to communities and private landholders who face limited alternative livelihoods, especially in a context of rural depopulation of marginal areas (Brown et al. 2011; McMorran et al. 2006). Furthermore, the aims of eco-tourism are closely associated with biodiversity conservation. Through the promotion of rewilding efforts, there will be an increase in the connectivity of landscapes, creating an opportunity for the expansion of large mammals and other species (Russo 2006), and indirectly increasing tourism while generating economic benefits to local communities.
Presently, eco-tourism is the fastest growing component sector in tourism (Gössling 2000). Overall, tourism is the largest global economic sector accounting for $ 3.6 trillion in economic activity and eco-tourism has constantly increased 20–30 % per year since the early 1990's (Bishop et al. 2008). Eco-tourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as the responsible visiting to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. For instance, in Zarnesti, Romania, a small community increased their total local revenue from 140,000 € in 2001 to 260,000 € in 2002 through eco-tourism programmes (CLCP 2000).
In particular, wildlife areas appeal to a large spectrum of tourists given the presence of charismatic species and other rare or attractive species. For example the reintroduction of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park has attracted additional tourists, generating economic and social benefits estimated at US$ 6–9 million per year (Donlan et al. 2006). The reintroduction of ungulates and large carnivores in the Majella and the Retezat National Park in Italy and Romania, respectively, has also contributed to the local economy (Kun and van der Donk 2006). In Scotland, tourism from wild landscapes is one of the most important economic sectors, contributing 1.6 billion € annually, to the country's economy. In particular, recreation opportunities, such as wildlife watching and hillwalking, generate 65 million € and support 39,000 full time jobs (Brown et al. 2011; Bryden et al. 2010). The reintroduction of the beaver can potentially generate an additional £ 2 million per year into the local Scottish economy through eco-tourism (Campbell et al. 2007). In addition to its potential economic benefits, beaver dams are considered to have a positive impact on river systems by increasing both invertebrate and fish populations (Kemp et al. 2010).
The Natura 2000 network further exemplifies how biodiversity can be protected while generating benefits. Annually, the gross socio-economic and co-benefits (social and environmental) from the Natura 2000 network range between 223 billion € and 314 billion €, representing between 2 and 3 % of EU's GDP (ten Brink et al. 2011). This figure contrasts with the annual investment in the Natura 2000 network, estimated at 5.8 billion € while providing 8 million (FTE) jobs (Gantolier et al. 2010).