Protecting Ecotourism to Make it Environment-friendly

Ecotourism Development in the World

Today, world ecotourism represents a small segment of nature-based tourism. It does not have a long history. It started only in 1965 when the term ecotourism came to existence to describe travel to Yucatan, a relatively unexplored and undisturbed nature area. Nature-based tourism is defined as traveling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas.

 

In the world tourism industry, nature tourism consists of 15% of all forms of tourism worldwide. This is based on the World Wildlife Fund in a 1999 estimate. When we talk of ecotourism, we are describing a type of nature-based tourism. Ecotourism as a term has five criteria:

  1. Nature conservation;
  2. Low impact;
  3. Sustainability;
  4. Meaningful community involvement; and
  5. Environmental education.

 

Thus, if nature tourism does not meet the above criteria, it will not be called an ecotourism destination. Why is this so? If we look at the historical development of ecotourism in the world, we realize that the use of the term “ecotourism” was first used in 1965. It was used as the term to describe travel to Yucatan. This is located in Mexico and is famous for its ancient Mayan ruins and pristine beaches, as well as ancient temples. The Yucatan experience triggered the need to capture such form of nature tourism that is undisturbed and uncontaminated natural environment. By the 1980s, there have been a lot of criticism on the negative impact of tourism, particularly, on the natural environment. This led to the development of what is called “soft” tourism.

Meyer (2015) pointed out that ecotourism developed during the environmental movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Because of so many concerns on environmental protection, there was an increase in demand for nature-based tourism or ecotourism.

 

Ten years later, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) was established in 1990. By 1992, the famous Rio Conference brought about the concept of sustainable development and soft tourism emerged again as a concept. It was in the 1990s that all initiatives with respect to world ecotourism were implemented.

Meyer (2015) provides a brief introduction on ecotourism. According to him, the overall concept of ecotourism is sustainability. He said that there are unstable forms of tourism, from business travel, beach tourism, rural tourism, and cultural tourism. Ecotourism is composed of rural tourism, nature tourism, and cultural tourism. The ultimate goal for these special types of ecotourism is sustainability.

 

A revised definition of ecotourism was provided by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) which is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education” (Meyer, 2015). Here education refers both to staff and guests.

In tracing the development of world ecotourism, it is important to emphasize that there are principles of ecotourism we should abide by and these are:

 

  1. Preservation of ecological carrying capacity and ecological balance. This is an important principle to remember when we talk of minimizing negative impact on ecotourism. There is a need for environmental preservation because a natural area has its own ecological carrying capacity that should not be ignored since it will affect ecological balance maintenance. What do we mean by ecological carrying capacity? When a particular nature-based ecotourism destination has visitors and tourists that exceed the limits of what the ecotourism site can carry or absorb, then the ecological carrying capacity and balance are disrupted. So many tourists visiting the ecotourism destinations will degrade the natural environment, disrupt the flora and fauna in the area, and may endanger certain species that are endemic to the land.

 

  1. Ensuring acceptance of tourism development. While ecotourism means undisturbed and uncontaminated natural areas, there is a need to engage in tourism development to protect the site. The development can be in the form of infrastructure that are ecologically friendly or “green”. For instance, these can be eco-huts, eco- lodges or green camps for the accommodations of tourists going to the natural area.

 

  1. Environmental-friendly transport alternatives. To minimize the negative impact of carbon emissions on the natural area, there is a need to identify environmental-friendly transport alternatives. This may mean that the ecotourists may not be allowed to take their cars with them to the destination and may have to take a tourist bus, or they can walk to the site which will have low ecological footprint.

 

The next principle of ecotourism is involvement of local stakeholders. These include the involvement of local communities or host communities and just and humane working opportunities for the local people in terms of creation of jobs and engagement in small businesses for tourism services. The goal is poverty alleviation for the local people.

 

Ecotourism should benefit local communities and nature conservation. These benefits consist of economic benefits, alternative employment and income opportunities. The benefits should also include directing revenues to conservation and management of natural and protected areas (Meyer, 2015).

 

Lastly, there should be public awareness and education which are aimed at increasing awareness towards environmental conservation of natural and cultural assets. This also includes educating local people and other local stakeholders on the importance of conservation.

 

 

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