Sustainable development is necessary in today's increasingly competitive environment and the Maya Rainforest in Central America is no exception. With inclusion of the host community, ecotourism is viewed as a sustainable path for development in ecologically sensitive areas (Cusick, McClure & Cox 2010) however, should not be minimized as a small subset of a niche market but of wider social significance (Honey 2002). With ecotourism demonstrating great promise to many regions of the world, opportunities for the Maya Rain Forest in Central America exist that prevent this area from being marginalized to a one dimensional industry. With diversification and differentiation, the Maya Rainforest can develop their ecotourism market to provide stability from a boom and bust economy especially with the potential for nature based resources (Wight 1993). Garcia-Frapolli et al. (2007) calls this the multiple use approach, meaning that eco-sensitive areas are inclined to nature based resources. The natural resources and rich cultural history provide the ideal setting for ecotourism development which would, in the long run, provide a more stable economic base than the current industries of farming and logging.
A similar approach to the development of environmentally sensitive tourism was implemented in the European Alpine Convention which was promoted in 1991 (Alpine Convention 2008). Regardless of the completely different environment, a number of common themes emerge when thinking about resources in the Alpine and Mayan forest areas. One of the main objectives of the Alpine Convention is to recognize nature based tourism as one of the most important sources of income in the Alpine regions. The main objectives are strengthening the competitiveness of ecological (close-to-nature) tourism and promoting concepts aiming at cooperation between the tourist industry, agriculture, forestry and handicrafts. However as it seems in the case of the Maya Rain Forest areas there were steps taken towards more sustainable and ecologically sensitive tourism but more on a declarative level. With this declaration several issues must be addressed, and specific steps must be taken in order for ecotourism to become a positive and effective solution to the areas economic challenges.
A Growing Market: Ecotourism
While there are a number of diverse definitions of ecotourism some of the shared concepts include the components of ecotourism as being conservation oriented, nature based, and centered on learning (Donohoe, Needham 2006; Fennell 1999/2001; Orams 2001). Similarly the ecotourist may be equally diverse in definition however, the motivational or psycho-social traits are becoming more important in ecotourist typologies (Nowaczek, Smale 2010). The potential ecotourist is even more broadly defined than the actual ecotourist (Wight 2001) and may be less unique than previous literature originally assumed (Ryan, Hughes, Chirgwin 2000).
In recent studies of the profiles of tourist from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Germany there was obvious evidence that the modern European tourist is inclined toward nature based tourist products and is ecologically sensitive (Juvan et al. 2007; Kurez et al. 2007; Ovsenik et al. 2007). However, they also want to engage in recreational and sporting activities, learn about and participate in local cultures, and seek new destinations (Boo 1990; Inskeep 1991; Richards, Wilson 2004). Ecotourism is the travel to natural areas that both conserve the culture and the environment while sustaining the well-being of the local inhabitants (Laarman, Durst 1987; Kusler, 1991; Lindberg, 1991; Fennell 1999;). Sustainable tourism offers destinations the opportunity to capitalize on their natural attractions and to gain all the economic benefits that tourism has to offer without destroying the resources that they are based upon (Cater 1993; Juvan, Ovsenik 2008). …