Ecotourism is increasingly becoming popular through out the world and has significant importance especially in the developing countries. The need of the local population in these countries gels very well with the potential to capitalize on the fast expanding tourism industry in the context of ecotourism. In most cases, enterprising developers make their way into areas in natural habitats which they designate as hotspots for tourists to visit and to have a different experience unlike those at the traditional and conventional tourist destinations. Such developers have been accused of exploiting the local communities in depriving them of their traditional means of livelihood, but if done in right earnest with the direction of regulatory bodies, ecotourism has vast potential in ultimately proving to be of long term benefit to mankind. The authorities need to cater to the needs of the local community in ensuring that their basic needs for shelter and a reasonable livelihood are not jeopardized by such attempts. A well constructed plan of ecotourism creates a sustainable and viable tourism opportunity in addition to reducing the harmful impact on the environment.
The beginning of the ethics in regard to the popularization of conservation was seen in the 1960s and 1970s. The earliest channels in bringing about the movement for conservation were the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The numbers of international and regional organizations that deal with conservation are increasing constantly and there are presently 2391 of them as listed by the National Wildlife Federation. The revenues generated by ecotourism are also increasing and stood at $22 billion in 2002. In keeping with the operation of demand and supply, the ecotourism industry has undergone vast changes and is considered to be the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry and is estimated to be growing at an annual rate of 30%. Tourism agencies continue to offer conventional ski and beach resort holidays. They are increasingly responding to the unconventional demands of the new consumers by way of unique ecotourism opportunities. The new generation of adventurous tourists between the age group of 30 and 40 years has started to have considerable concern for the future in seeking travel destinations that have an ecological experience. Destinations that are characterized by vanishing and endangered species have come to become priority areas and hot spots for such tourists. The famed ecologist Reyes has said in this regard that, “what is surprising: we haven’t learned as much as you might imagine from the history of ecotourism. Modern ecotourism, beginning in the 1980s, has brought an unheard- of prosperity to countries like Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Nepal,” (Reyes, 2008)
Nature based tourism is becoming increasingly popular in activities such as rain forest canoe trips, swimming with dolphins, whale watching, bungee jumping, horse back trips and llama trekking. In America alone, the market for ecotourism is estimated at about 43 million tourists annually. The nature of the travel industry is changing rapidly with the demand for eco tours. Clients wish to do more than just relax by the pool side in sunny locations in wanting to contribute something special to the place they visit and in carrying back special memories by way of enhanced knowledge. Ecotourism enables tourists to work along with naturalists in field settings. In adding eco tours to the tourist’s agenda, the tourism industry has included the section of society which desires to stay in modest accommodation and to travel in difficult terrain to get that special experience. There are several benefits to the travel industry in expanding the range of services. In this context too they have a positive role to play in view of their willingness to part with a portion of their earnings for the cause of the local conservation groups.
Ecotourism has become an inherent element of the approach towards sustainable use of the environment as also the basis for several organizations to protect areas such as reserves and national parks. A living and successful example in this regard is the well managed utilization of the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador which resulted from the agreement between the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos and the Republic of Ecuador. In being a positive development, a research center was established in the islands to provide a science based conservation system. The increasing spread and popularity of ecotourism has brought about international cooperation with nations working towards a common objective to preserve the environment. According to Motavalli, who has done extensive research in the filed of ecotourism, Education of the local population and visitors in the natural history of the Galapagos is a goal of the Station and the Park and programs are conducted in the Islands and on the mainland. An intensive course for naturalist guides, which is required to supervise visitors to Park sites, is conducted annually. Guides in the Galapagos are on every ship”, (Motavalli, 1995). Sustained eco tourism enables countries to come together and enables the transfer of modern technology. It is now possible for states and nations to engage with each other in regard to exchange programs between nations on management of natural resources and the analysis of preparedness in natural sciences.
Eco tourism greatly benefits the country by way of increasing revenues. It is known that the travelers within this ambit spend on an average $1000 in ten days which is much more than the recreation traveler. Although there has been criticism in regard to sufficient profits not reaching the local people, there is a sizable return for the host country in this regard. Ecotourism is helpful in maintaining the essential ecological processes which enable nutrients to be recycled and water to be purified which is essential for the maintenance of life support systems. It preserves the genetic diversity in addition to protecting the vulnerable and endangered species. Ecotourism ensures the sustained utilization of eco systems and protection of species like fish and grazing lands, forests and wild life. The ecosystems support several industries and millions of people. Eco tourism is considered to be the fastest growing segment within the tourism industry. Amongst the several advantages emanating from the practice is the excellent source of foreign exchange earnings it provides to nations having potential for ecotourism. If managed properly, ecotourism proves to be a better means of utilizing land as compared to agriculture. It enables economic development by providing a means of livelihood for the lowest strata of society especially in the rural communities. It is considered as an industry which promotes development without damaging the environment. Ecotourism is considered to be a peaceful industry in promoting harmony amongst different cultures and also promotes business partnerships amongst conservation authorities and the private sector.
If ecotourism is pursued in its true spirit there would be very few disadvantages associated with the practice. It is however pertinent that not all concerned parties put the interest of the environment on priority and work more towards making gains in the name of pushing the various schemes and plans in the name of ecotourism. There are several organizations, companies, individuals and countries also that try and make money in this regard. The biggest issue is the differing ideas that entities have about ecotourism and it has now come to be largely driven by money and greed. If ecotourism is driven by money it will certainly not prove to be in the long term interest of the environment. If ecotourism is not managed effectively it can be as damaging as conventional tourism. It becomes a major threat to natural habitats and the rich bio diversity in the jungles and parks. Ecotourism is said to preserve the environment by depriving the development of third world communities. There is also a tendency for unhealthy competition to develop amongst the different groups thus leading to social disharmony. In the name of ecotourism there is large scale damage being inflicted by way of affluent pollution and production waste. Additionally, increasing human activities such as agricultural clearance and logging are taking there toll on the environment and natural resources.
The society construction theory can be aptly applied in studying the attitudes and behavioral changes amongst the locals and the tourists. Once a given piece of land is provided to a community it needs to get assistance to make constructive decisions about making the best use of the land in the context of using it for ecotourism in partnerships or business ventures. Ventures for ecotourism are best viewed in relation to areas where the land use is in semi arid and arid areas such as Africa. Hence the community must be given sound planning and development advice. Ultimately what matters most is the responsibility and initiatives exhibited by the community which in turn determines the success of the venture in ecotourism. Since there is no guaranteed success, all the parties have to face risks of which they must be made aware of. The arrangements that can take place in this regard pertain to agreements between the local communities and the concerned conservation agencies, between private sector and communities, community driven projects, and tripartite alliances between local communities, private sector and governments.
Local communities have a great deal of expectations from ecotourism. They must be made equity partners in ecotourism and the revenue should be guaranteed as per the contract in addition to the creation of jobs. The local communities have to be clearly earmarked and they should get priority in jobs. Their legal rights of resources must be acknowledged and recognized while the revenues should be distributed in a transparent and fair manner and the objective of all schemes should be to build capacity for the local people.
A typical example of the successful efforts in regard to ecotourism is the Ecotourist Forest reserve Center at Dadia, Greece. It is an ideal place to discover the famous forest reserves at Dadia, which is known to be a rare refuge for predatory birds in the whole of the European continent. It boasts of being home to almost all the species of predatory birds. Dadia is a village in the Rhodope Mountains and experienced rapid development since the 1990s due to the efforts initiated by conservation authorities, the government of Greece and the European Union. The private sector and the local population have partnered together to bring about ecotourism in the region. It was not surprising to see a remote mountainous region with a lush heritage and a distinctive culture and diverse natural environment becoming a successful model of economic revival and nature conservation. Infrastructure was developed by the local wing of the WWF with the assistance of hundreds of local volunteers and visiting scientists and students from different parts of the world. A ground work was established for broader community activities in the ecotourism venture. Women too were actively involved in forming their own cooperative and it proved to be such a success that other villages followed suit in adopting similar cooperatives. In this regard, Valaoras et al have rightly stated that, “an important additional source of income was provided to rural families: without leaving home or changing their traditional family roles as caregivers, the women of Evros achieved some measure of independence and contact with the outside world” (Valaoras et al, 2002).
Visitors to Dadia began to increase and so did the ecotourism which further boosted the economic activities in the region. The success of the project became famous and national authorities were compelled to provide better management to the area. Further investments were attracted from public and private companies and through Community Support programs of the EU. As a result the ecotourism initiatives have stimulated employment and enabled the people in the region to have immense pride in their place.
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