Ecotourism is tourism that appeals to people who are concerned about ecology as well as social consciousness. It can also focus on local culture, as well as, adventures in the wilderness and personal growth. People can learn to live in a new way that benefits the planet and its peoples. Ecotourism or responsible tourism is something that came into the human consciousness during the nineteen eighties. Detractors of ecotourism state while the purpose and mission of ecotourism is to raise social consciousness, the lack of regulation, poor disruption of monies accrued and the systematic decline of pristine, virgin areas do not actually promote conservation or gain for the host country and natives.
The International Ecotourism Society reports that tourism is the largest industry for 83 percent of developing countries. Ecotourism benefits these developing countries by supporting their local sustainable projects and building cross-cultural awareness. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization reports that ecotourism allows visitors to see natural areas to learn more about the ecosystem and natural habitats.
Unfortunately, “green washing” by tourism agencies can be a problem. There are agencies that claim to offer ecotourism, but actually practice damaging activities that are notoriously bad for the environment. These include helicopter rides and boat rides (both of which contribute to pollution), nature hikes that destroy plants and lodging in hotels that do not use renewable energy. Because there is a lack of regulation over who can call themselves “ecotourism companies,” it’s up to the consumer to ask the tourist operator about the potential impact the traveler will have on the environment they will be visiting.
Ecotourism: Function: noun – Date: 1982: the practice of touring natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact (Ecotourism, 2010). Ecotourism, as defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” It is a relatively new concept, created recently in response to the growing concern about the impact of humans on the planet. Tour groups visit sites where there is an established relationship with the locals, and participate in activities that are considered sustainable (What is ecotourism?, 2007).
Benefits of Ecotourism
For the hosting country the benefits are threefold. According to TIES, “the world’s 40 poorest countries count on tourism dollars as their number two export, just behind oil. Tourism of any kind brings much needed revenue to an area. What is unique about ecotourism dollars is that they often serve to help not only the local people, but the conservation efforts in an area as well.”
Ecotourism is intended to promote interaction between local populations and visitors. This can provide an opportunity for the natives/indigenous people to sell goods and services directly to tourists. It can also allow them to continue to promote their culture and to share it with outsiders. Ecotourism can provide an opportunity to educate and raise awareness. Informed people are often more inclined to give money, and volunteer to help a population with the conservation efforts they are working toward.
Sustainable travel, minimal impact and conservation yield a healthy environment for local populations. By working with responsible tour groups, local populations have an opportunity to share their world without it being ruined in the process. The money generated from ecotourism specifically for conservation efforts will help keep fragile environments beautiful for years to come; while maintaining the quality of life for the local populations (Merg, Tourism, globalization and sustainable development, 2007).
Benefits for the Tourist
Tourists learn about the environment and the local people who live there. For the conscientious traveler, an “ecotour” can be positive way to experience new places, without over-impacting the planet. Ecotourism provides a way to have a closer and more personal experience with the natural environment of a given location and with the local community as well. For the planet responsible tourist this means a healthier world for us all.
Deterrents to Ecotourism
Ecotourism may sound benign, but one of its most serious impacts is the expropriation of “virgin” territories, such as national parks, wildlife parks and other wilderness areas, which have been packaged for eco-tourists as the green option. Ecotourism is highly consumer-centered, catering mostly to urbanized societies and the new middle-class “alternative lifestyles”. Searching for untouched places, “off the beaten track” of mass tourism, travelers have already opened up many new destinations.
Mega-resorts, including luxury hotels, condominiums, shopping centers and golf course, are increasingly established in nature reserves in the name of ecotourism. Some detractors have called it “eco-terrorism”. Such projects build completely artificial landscapes, tending to irretrievably wipe out plant and wildlife species – even entire eco-systems (Merg, Eco-tourism or eco-terrorism, 2007).
No local benefits
Diverse local social and economic activities are replaced by an ecotourism single culture. Detractors state that contrary to claims, local people do not necessarily benefit from ecotourism. Ecotourism-related employment is greatly overrated. Many locals are usually employed in low-paying service jobs such as tour guides, porters, and food and souvenir vendors. In addition, they are not assured of year-round employment. These workers can be laid off during the off-season. Most money, as with conventional tourism, is made by foreign airlines, tourism operators, and developers who take the profit to their own economically more advanced countries.
Ecotourism’s claim that it preserves and enhances local cultures can be highly inaccurate. Ethnic groups are viewed as a major asset in attracting visitors as an “exotic and new” backdrop to natural scenery and wildlife. The simultaneous romanticism and devastation of indigenous cultures is one of ecotourism’s ironies. According to the Third World Network Features/African Agenda, “Given a lack of success stories, and sufficient evidence of serious adverse effects, the current huge investments in ecotourism are misplaced and irresponsible. Research, education, and information for tourists are needed, and the countering of ecotourism’s demeaning of local cultures” (Pleumarom, 1995).
Threat to Local Culture
Ecotourism occasionally enters tribal areas and the trip arrangers recruit tribe members for demonstrations and entertainment. While this can be fun for vacationers, it can threaten local culture if all tribe members haven’t discussed the arrangement and agreed upon it. This arrangement can cause a divide in a tribe.
Little or No Infusion to Local Economies
Ecotourism is almost always arranged by outside groups who aren’t even based in the country that they are visiting. Vacationers think that they are benefiting the country that they visit, when in fact they are using the country’s resources and infusing very little economically. In these cases, the vast majority of the fare paid for the trip goes to the outside agent who arranged the trip.
Environmental scientists and industry experts have argued that ecotourism causes extensive environmental damage, as the transportation required to reach the remote ecotourism areas releases a large amount of greenhouse gases. Ecotourism usually covers a larger area than other types of travel (such as timeshares or all-inclusive resort experiences), requiring much more transportation and releasing more pollution in less time (Contributing Writer, 2008).
Many tourists looking for an ecotourism experience want their trip to be as authentic as possible and want to view the “real lives” of people in the country they are visiting. To get this experience, some people think it is necessary to avoid the major tourism companies (such as Disney, Trafalgar, or Brendan) and book through an independent agent or company. While these independent agencies can sometimes offer insider experiences and ecotourism trips that aren’t available to larger groups, they lack the funding, insurance and experience of larger groups. They may not be as concerned with safely operating a tour experience. Many have cut corners to decrease cost. This can to lead to an unsafe, and possibly unpleasant, ecotourism experience (Contributing Writer, 2007).
Lack of Regulation
There is no certification process for providers of ecotourism. There is no overseeing commission to ensure that ecotourism is carried out responsibly. While some countries have sustainable development committees, there is little to stop companies from claiming that they are providing a genuine ecotourism experience, while destroying the environment in the process. An issue with the lack of regulation is that tourists have no overseeing board or company to complain to if their trip is unsatisfactory (Duffy, 2002).
Significant social and political issues such as the maldistribution of resources, inequalities in political representation and power, and the growth of unsustainable consumption patterns cannot be ignored. While there could be substantial benefits to the tourist in engaging in this type of tourism, virgin areas will no longer be virgin. The search for new and exciting “green” destinations will continue to decrease an impede that the purpose of ecotourism in general. I have come to the conclusion that the intent of ecotourism is a noble one; there must be regulations and standards in place to keep the mission and goal of ecotourism in place. Ecotourism does not help the natives or hosting country, it does however help the industries usually impeding upon these lands.