Nature for Sale: The Case for Decommodifying Interpretation and Ecotourism

By Wearing, Stephen; Archer, David et al. | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Nature for Sale: The Case for Decommodifying Interpretation and Ecotourism


Wearing, Stephen, Archer, David, Jackson, Mark, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management


This paper argues that current directions in park interpretation reflect an increasing tendency towards the commodification of nature. The quest for profit from nature based activities, particularly tourism, has spawned an outdoor industry lacking an ethics of care for nature or an appreciation of the consequences of human action on nature and local cultures. Issues surrounding the commodification of nature will inevitably dictate the future terms under which outdoor experiences may be provided. The dominance of economic rationalism as an approach to resolving conflict between conservation and development inadequately recognises the intrinsic and intangible values of nature. This often results in the inappropriate development or use of natural resources and changes the capacity of the resource to meet the expectations of users, Trends in outdoor provision, such as larger numbers of people using nature and more commercially orientated groups, coupled with competition for higher economic returns sees a need for the outdoor industry (included in this term are operators in the tourism industry) and interpretive practice to ensure sustainable use of the environment.

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Sustainability (and ecotourism a a form of sustainable tourism) is suck a vague, contested concept, that it is easily manipulated to support and enhance the power of industry interest and those who stand to gain (Mowforth & Munt, 1998). Nee-liberal economic has served to influence protected area policies in ways that afford little room for intangible values, either natural or cultural (e.g., Staiff, Bushell, & Kennedy, 2002) Yet, a biocentric view of the environment is just as valid as an anthropocentric one perhaps even more so when knowledge of the environment is so very limited Moreover, protected areas should no be required to yield financial return: (from ecotourism or any other industry) in order to be created and or maintained As Figgis observes, "while ecotourism creates support for the proper management of protected areas, it can also cause protected areas to be regarded primarily as economic resources" (Figgis, 2000, p. 24). Any tourism in protected areas should be carefully evaluated and, where permitted, carefully regulated and monitored. In arguing for a stronger conservation/ preservation bias in protected area management, it is conceded that we are a long way from a nature-based tourism industry that can claim to be ecologically sustainable, much less containing well-established and extensive core of mature businesses who can claim to be ecotourism operators (Wearing & Jenkins, in press).

The inevitable outcome of ecotourism in protected areas is the need to provide interpretation (Wearing & Nell 1999). A new type of tourist has emerged that requires a higher degree on interaction with nature: "people who require environmentally compatible recreational opportunities ... where nature rather than humanity predominates" (Kerr, 1991, p. 248). These ecotourists are interested in visiting wilderness, national parks, and tropical forests, and in viewing birds, mammals, trees and wildflowers. They want to experience new lifestyles and meet people with similar interests to themselves and they want to see their travelling dollars contributing towards conservation and benefiting the local economy (Eagles, Ballantine, & Fennell, 1992). One of the most notable differences that has emerged is in expenditure, where experienced ecotourists are estimated to be willing to spend more than general tourists, as evidenced by a study undertaken in 1990 (commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund) that found people interested in nature, travel and in visiting fragile environments generally exhibit higher expenditure levels than the average tourist (although this additional expenditure may be in high leakage areas). Further, "[ecotourists] on average, would spend 8.5% more for services and products provided by environmentally responsible suppliers" (Wight, 1994, p. …

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