Academic journal article Human Organization

From Nature Tourism to Ecotourism? the Case of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

Academic journal article Human Organization

From Nature Tourism to Ecotourism? the Case of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

Article excerpt

This paper examines what is needed to transform nature tourism to protected areas into ecotourism, having genuine social benefits and serving as a tool for sustainable community development. It draws on the case of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania's most visited protected area, and a multiple land use zone inhabited by the pastoral Maasai peoples. I argue that for ecotourism to promote sustainable development in communities that are its supposed beneficiaries, three fundamental conditions must be met. First, opportunities to capture the economic benefits of tourism must be structured in a way that is culturally appropriate, and therefore accessible to the target population. Second, for communities to benefit from ecotourism, they need secure land tenure over the area in which it takes place, as well as the ability to make land use decisions for that area. Third, tourism benefits to local communities must be more than economic; they must promote deeper social and political justice goals that, if left unaddressed, restrict peoples' ability to enjoy the economic benefits of tourism. Without these elements, the conservation outcomes of ecotourism are likely to be less favorable.

Key words: ecotourism, sustainable development, Maasai, Ngorongoro


In recent years, ecotourism has been promoted as an alternative, low impact form of tourism to natural areas. In contrast to mass tourism, ecotourism is viewed as both a conservation and development tool because it provides conservation benefits and economic benefits. In theory, by distributing some of the benefits of tourism to local people, they will have incentive to protect those natural areas that draw tourists, be more likely to support the presence of protected areas in their midst that otherwise restrict their access to land and resources, and embrace behaviors and attitudes that support conservation.

The focus of this paper is on whether ecotourism truly has the potential to be an effective tool for sustainable development in communities located in close proximity to protected areas that are tourist destinations. Protected areas typically promote nature tourism-travel to unspoiled, natural places where people can experience and enjoy nature. In contrast, ecotourism is "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people" (Epler Wood 2002:9). While there are no internationally agreed upon criteria or standards for ccotourism, some common features include: travel to natural areas that are often remote and usually protected; active contributions to conservation; economic benefits and political empowerment for local communities; respect for local culture and support for human rights; education about the environment, society, and culture at the destination; and, minimal impact on the environment and local people (Honey and Stewart 2002).

I use the case of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in northern Tanzania to examine what it takes to transform nature tourism to protected areas into genuine ecotourism. Although efforts have been made to promote conservation benefits in association with nature tourism in the NCA, little attention has been given to the potential role of tourism in contributing to sustainable development there (one exception is DeLuca 2002).

The NCA is a place where ecotourism could very well flourish. The dramatic beauty of the natural landscape, abundance and diversity of African wildlife species, and rich archaeological resources combine to make the Area's scientific, ecological, and cultural resources exceptional. Added to this, the NCA has a unique protected area status in Tanzania as a "multiple land use" zone. Unlike national parks, where human settlement and consumptive resource uses are prohibited, the NCA is home to some 52,000 residents (MNRT and NCAA 2001), the vast majority of whom are the pastoral Maasai peoples, together with roughly 300,000 head of cattle, sheep, and goats (MNRT and NCAA 1996). …

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