Ecotourism: Wave of the Future

By Zeiger, Jeffrey B.; McDonald, Dan | Parks & Recreation, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Ecotourism: Wave of the Future


Zeiger, Jeffrey B., McDonald, Dan, Parks & Recreation


Ecotourism is a multifaceted science. It incorporates the vast tourism industry with the environment and is more interested in educating the tourist than in earning the maximum profit. While the word "ecotourism" seems to be rather self-explanatory, it is actually a confusing term with numerous definitions. In attempting to define ecotourism, one must first recognize the difference between tourism and ecotourism.

There exists a case of stewardship for the land and indigenous people in ecotourism; it is not about exploiting the local people or their culture, or even changing it in order to accommodate the tourist or visitor. Instead, ecotourism is about preserving the natural environment and giving the locals fair employment. Ecotourism empowers the local population to take an active role in environmental programs. In turn, the ecotourist must "take only pictures and leave only footprints" on the environment that he or she explores. The visitor has a social responsibility to the people in ecotourism. The tourism industry has destroyed numerous irreplaceable environmental areas, such as coral reefs and forests, because of the tourist's demand for modern luxuries when traveling. The ecotourist recognizes the adverse effects of such tourism and minimizes or eliminates any such consequences on the natural areas he or she uses.

Tourism means revenue; it is big business and brings money that can be multiplied many times over into communities. In so many cases, the business loses sight of important principles because of the desire to increase revenue. Ecotourism is also concerned with making money, but only in an environmentally friendly manner. Proceeds of the ecotourism enterprise go back into the community in the area's land management and conservation, as well as programs such as alternative-energy research. In ecotourism, it is more important to educate the tourist than to make a profit.

Ecotourism provides a unique opportunity to educate the tourist in a natural environment. Hands-on activities, informative displays, and educational seminars offer the visitor a better understanding of the local environment. Ecotourism, by eliminating the "wear and tear" on a site that conventional tourism encompasses, is concerned with the preservation of such natural habitats and archeological areas. Furthermore, it offers the opportunity for people to view remarkable natural wonders without worrying about damaging the area.

Not only is ecotourism not concerned with bringing in throngs of tourists, it would be defeating the purpose to bring mass tourism to natural areas. Ecotourism, instead, offers purposeful travel to natural areas for a limited number of tourists. As previously mentioned, an ecotourist must be a friend to the environment, so the relatively few people who are willing to sacrifice "luxury" for the environmentally friendly vacation are candidates for the ecotourism industry.

The Challenges of Successful Ecotourism

As mentioned, the benefits of ecotourism are becoming increasingly attractive. However, planners and managers must also face the problems that may arise. These issues tend to be complex. Ecotourism, by its very nature, builds up expectations and raises the risk of hit-and-run tourism; this is described as an influx of nature-lovers and culture-addicts to the latest wild spot, followed by its abandonment once discovered and degraded. Moreover, ecotourism attractions can be located in the most remote and rural areas. Therefore, ancient cultures and economies may be harmed or disrupted. These challenges, among others, need to be met. Planners and managers must be prepared and educated on the impacts of tourism. Their optimal strategy must involve minimizing these costs while maximizing the many bene fits.

Ecotourism encompasses many aspects and faces many challenges. It is not only about safeguarding the environment, but employing and informing the locals, as well as educating the tourist. …

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