"Ecotourism" a has proven to be a difficult task given all
the different players attempting to define it. People tend to define
things in terms that are beneficial to themselves, hence the variety
of definitions. There are however several workable definitions currently
in wide use.
The International Ecotourism Society defines Ecotourism as: "responsible
travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves
the welfare of local people".
The Australian Commission
on National Ecotourism Strategy calls it: "nature-based tourism
that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment
and is managed to be ecologically sustainable" .
Since the publication
of her excellent book "Ecotourism and Sustainable Development"
Martha Honey's definition is quickly becoming the standard. Most serious
studies of ecotourism including several University programs now use
this as the working definition. Here then are her 7 defining points:
- Involves travel to
natural destinations. These destinations are often remote areas,
whether inhabited or uninhabited, and are usually under some kind
of environmental protection at the national, international, communal
or private level.
- Minimizes Impact.
Tourism causes damage. Ecotourism strives to minimize the adverse
affects of hotels, trails, and other infrastructure by using either
recycled materials or plentyfully available local building materials,
renewable sources of energy, recycling and safe disposal of waste
and garbage, and environmentally and culturally sensitive architectural
design. Minimization of impact also requires that the numbers
and mode of behavior of tourists be regulated to ensure limited
damage to the ecosystem.
- Builds environmental
awareness. Ecotourism means education, for both tourists and residents
of nearby communities. Well before departure tour operators should
supply travelers with reading material about the country, environment
and local people, as well as a code of conduct for both the traveler
and the industry itself. This information helps prepare the tourist
as The Ecotourism Societies guidelines state"to learn about
the places and peoples visited" and "to minimize their
negative impacts while visiting sensitive environments and cultures".
Essential to good ecotourism are well-trained, multilingual naturalist
guides with skills in natural and cultural history, environmental
interpretation, ethical principles and effective communication.
Ecotourism projects should also help educate members of the surrounding
community, schoolchildren and the broader public in the host country.
To do so they must offer greatly reduced entrance and lodge fees
for nationals and free educational trips for local students and
those living near thetourist attraction.
- Provides direct financial
benefits for consevation: Ecotourism helps raise funds for environmental
protection, research and education through a variety of mechanisms,
including park entrance fees, tour company, hotel, airline and
airport taxes and voluntary contributions.
- Provides financial
benefits and empowerment for local people: National Parks and
other conservation areas will only survive if there are "happy
people" around their perimeters. The local community must
be involved with and receive income and other tangible benefits(potable
water, roads, health clinics, etc.) from the conservation area
and it's tourist facilities. Campsites, lodges, guide services,
restaurants and other concessions should be run by or in partnership
with communities surrounding a park or other tourist destination.
More importantly, if Ecotourism is to be viewed as a tool for
rural development, it must also help shift economic and political
control to the local community, village, cooperative, or entrepreneur.
This is the most difficult and time-consuming principle in the
economic equation and the one that foreign opeators and "partners"
most often let fall through the cracks or that they follow only
partially or formally.
- Respects local culture:
Ecotourism is not only "greener" but also less culturally
intrusive and exploitative than conventional tourism. Whereas
prostitution, black markets and drugs often are by-products of
mass tourism, ecotourism stives to be culturally respectful and
have a minimal effect on both the natural environment and the
human population of a host country. This is not easy, especially
since ecotourism often involves travel to remote areas where small
and isolate communities have had little experience interacting
with foreigners. And like conventional tourism, ecotourism involves
an unequal relationship of power between the visitor and the host
and a commodification of the relationship through exchange of
money. Part of being a responsible ecotourist is learning beforehand
about the local customs, respecting dress codes and other social
norms and not intruding on the community unless either invited
or as part of a well organized tour.
- Supports human rights
and democratic movements: Although tourism often is glibly hailed
as a tool for building international understanding and world peace,
this does not happen automatically; frequently in fact tourism
bolsters the economies of repressive and undemocratic states.
Mass tourism pays scant attention to the political system of the
host country or struggles within it, unless civil unrest spills
over into attacks on tourists. Ecotourism demands a more holistic
approach to travel, one in which participants strive to respect,
learn about and benefit both the local environment and local communities.
Although not part of The Ecotourism Societies definition, giving
economic benefits and showing cultural sensitivities to local
communities cannot be seperated from understanding their political
circumstances. In many developing countries, rural populations
living around national parks and other ecotourism attractions
are locked in contests with the national government and multinational
corporations for control of the assets and their benfits. Ecotourist
therefore need to be sensitive to the host country's political
environment and social climate and need to consider the merits
of international boycotts called for by those supporting democratic
reforms, majority rule, and human rights. For example the campaign
by the African National Congress(ANC) to isolate South Africa
through a boycott of investment, trade, sports and tourism helped
bring down apartheid. Determining whether to boycott or visit
a country is not always easy. Among the questions to ask are:
Does the economic growth fueled by tourism really improve the
chances of human rights being respected? Will boycotting a country
harm already impoverished workers more than it will corporate
or government titans? Or are the short term economic penalties
more than offset by the ultimate benefits of change? If one visits
a repressive state like China, Indonesia, Peru or Syria, it is
possible to make the trip rewarding both personally and politically
by consciously learning about the country beforehand, meeting
with dissidents and average folks, as well as government officials
while there, and speaking about the political climate, not just
the weather after returning home.