Ecotourism as a Tourism Product: Best and Worst Practices

  1. The emergence of ecotourism

Natural resources have been recognized by human beings in the recent past as being the major profitable resources. This has resulted in various negative effects on the environment as human activities lead to environmental degradation and pollution. Tourism is one of the lucrative economic activities carried out by many countries. It is one of the activities that have caused problems to the environment. This is due to the fact that tourists tend to deplete the natural resources within the environment through such things as emergence and building of hotels, bars and recreation centers. These places often contribute to environmental pollution and cause problems to human habitation within the environment. However, ecotourism has allowed tourists to preserve the environment while still enjoyed its nature in their tourism activities. This concept emerged in around 1980s when the world started to appreciate and react positively to sustainable ecological practices. The need for holiday tourism and the rise of environmental conservation awareness prompted the emergence of ecotourism which is aimed at the reduction of tourism’s impact on the environment.

Ecotourism has gained support as an ideal form of sustainable development due to the fact that there is need for the world to minimize the negative impacts of tourism on the environment. In the recent past, the world population has been involved in many programs that are meant to make the world a habitable destination for all. This is because the growing population and economic development around the world has led to many impacts on the environment such as global warming. These effects of human activities are being addressed by various sections of the world economy. Tourism also has its role to play in the emergence of environmental impacts and is therefore ought to address this problem in a sustainable way. That is why the concept of ecotourism emerged and gained support in the world.

  1. Current approaches to Ecotourism development

The main current approaches to ecotourism development are generally characterized into ecological, environmental and social and cultural sustainability. Ecological aspects guide the management of human activity so as to achieve sustainable ecotourism development in the world. It has also been suggested by some proponents of ecotourism that the planning of ecotourism should be ecological centered, i.e. it should be geared towards the attainment of the ecological needs. This planning activity of ecotourism entails the treatment of nature as a component that is responsible for meeting human ecological needs. In this respect, ecotourism needs to be concerned with the protection of human habitats and environmental conservations.

Natural based ecotourism is also targeted on various protected areas. These areas are primarily aimed at the protection of natural and cultural heritage (Diamantis, 1999). These cultural and natural aspects are protected so as to provide enjoyment and maintenance of biodiversity as well as the development of sustainable ecological services that enable a life-supporting environment. Illegal activities such as poaching and deforestation play a crucial part of issues related to ecotourism development. Based on the level of consumption, nature tourism can be turned into ecotourism so as to resolve fundamental issues of illegal activities associated with tourism. It is therefore clear that ecotourism may be viewed from a nature based perspective.

Since tourism has socio-cultural impacts on the local communities, it can be argued that the development of socio-development in host communities enables such communities to be involved in ecotourism activities in their protected and unprotected tourist destinations. Community involvement approach towards ecotourism enables the local communities to influence the level of ecotourism development on the local communities. It generates a sense of pride and reduces the engagement of resources outside the local community. This approach therefore enables the local communities to enjoy the sustainability of ecotourism development in the society.

Ecotourism can also be approached from a cultural point of view whereby the participants are involved in the interchange of traditional crafts and cultures. For instance, an ecotourism may be enhanced when an individual tours a certain tourist destination and experiences and borrows cultural and conservation practices in the given tourism destination. It may also involve sustainable product development centered on conservation activities and approaches. For instance, local materials may be used to educate eco-tourists about the local resources and culture. This fosters a sustainable ecotourism development.

  1. Ecotourism developments

Costa Rica National parks system

Due to the general rise of economic development in the world, deforestation increased as well. One of the countries which have experienced such deforestations is Costa Rica. Costa Rica’s deforestation experiences have occasioned scientists and environmentalists within the country to devise mechanisms through which such problems may be addressed. As a result, the country’s system is comprised of innovations in conservation policy which protects nearly a quarter of the country’s land area. The largest part of this land area is covered by national parks which form part of the country’s ecotourism hub. Despite the country’s small size, the conservatisms and environmentalists of the country in collaboration with its leaders managed to develop an amazing diversity of national parks. The country’s conservation model is based on the US national park system policy and is more importantly driven by environmental economics.

The main positive contributions to the success of Costa Rica’s national park system are the country’s political and leadership influence. In late 1990s, the country’s leaders championed for the development of ecotourism through the conservation of its park system which resulted in the formation of the country’s conservation policies. In these policies, the local communities are required to contribute equally to the conservation of the country’s park systems as the government agents and eco-tourists. As suggested by Diamantis (1999), the most important figure in the conservation of Costa Rica as an eco-tourism center is a Swedish former airforce captain known as Olof Wessberg. Olof solicited for funds to build a national park in Cost Rica. With the support of the government, he was able to build the park and preserve the country’s rain forest. The main contributing factor in the country’s conservation strategies which worked well for the country is the support by government and international bodies to build national parks within the country and to preserve rain forests. This helped the country to enjoy a significantly large spell of ecotourism.

However, the concept of ecotourism in Costa Rica has overlooked the needs of the local residents living near the protected ecotourism areas especially the national parks. The livelihoods of those living near the protected areas are in most cases considered as being secondary to the environmental conservation mechanisms. In fact, the local communities have been displaced without concern, compensation or even a promise to compensate them. Local development has in fact been oversimplified and considered as secondary aspects of economic development in the country. This aspect has become detrimental to the living standards of the people living near or at the places designated for the construction of national parks.

It is also clear from the study of (Diamantis, 1999) that the Costa Rica’s conservation policy has by and large contributed to the agricultural development of the country being neglected. A famous Costa Rica’s geographer claimed in 1990s that Costa Rica’s problem lies in the shift from peasant farming to commercial production of modern crops as occasioned by conservatisms. The restructuring of the rural areas also came into conflict with the demand for tropical forest and wild conservations caused by the country’s conservation policies. Damantis (1999) claims that geographers tend to oppose the conservation policies in the sense that the country’s park system and ecotourism in general serve to benefit agricultural and business interests of foreign countries such as the US.

The Agmon Lake in the Hula Valley in Israel

Located in upper Galilee in the north eastern parts of Israel, Agmon Lake stands out as one of the most significant ecotourism destinations in Israel. It is a home to about 390 different migrating species every year. Among them are about 500 million birds which form part of the valley’s most significant tourist attraction features (Eubanks, Stoll &Ditton, 2004). The planning of the valley took place in 1990s when the valley was restored in an attempt to eradicate malaria. Hula restoration project is one of the most successful ecotourism activities in Israel in the support of sustainable ecotourism development. While the project intends to attract tourists, it has also enhanced the conservation of the environment through land reclamation. The swamp that previously covered the area caused malaria to the residents of the area and the reclamation of the land not only enhanced the development of a more sustainable tourism center but also reduced the invasion of malaria in the area, hence contributing to an effective ecotourism venture for the benefit of both the locals and eco-tourists.

The success of Ecotourism in the Hula Valley project is attributed largely to the compromise and agreements reached by all the stakeholders of the project, considering the interests of each stakeholder. The plan of the project was also geared towards sustainable development, hence enabling an achievement of a set of goals that were designed to support sustainable ecotourism development.  The main purpose of the project plan was to reclaim the ecological role of the Hula Lake and improve the nutrient content of the lake as well as to reduce the organic matter which flow into Lake Kinneret. The project was also meant to control the levels of ground water so as to regulate the decomposition and the subsidence of soil in the lake region and to enable the land owners to enjoy profitable agricultural processes on the soil. Most importantly to the ecotourism sector, the project was also initiated to boost the conservation of birds and wildlife. Finally, the project was constructed in an attempt to improve the income of landowners in the region. To this end, 10% of the agricultural land was targeted to be translated into an ecosystem so as to boost ecotourism.

The Hula valley project was occasioned by the fact that birds who attracted tourists also brought havoc to the local resident farmers by damaging their crops. With the construction of the Agmon Lake, birds were provided with a home where tourists can visit and bring in foreign exchange earnings to Israel while at the same time enabling farmers to produce their crops uninterruptedly, hence bring a balance between tourism earnings and agricultural production. The birds (of the crane species) are the major tourist attraction species in the lake. The Hula valley project is still an ongoing process which targets to provide home for migrating birds and boost ecotourism. This has been proved successful owing to the fact that the lake is now attracted quite a number of species which use the lake. As a result of this success, the lake was nominated in the world heritage list of UNSCO (state of Israel et al., 2005).

However, the Hula Valley project poses its own challenges. For instance, the project has led to the loss of quite a number of bird species and a detrimental distortion of the birds’ migration patterns. The project also leads to a shift from the agricultural sector to ecotourism. This shift may result in unequal allocation of resources to the various sectors in the entire economy of Israel.

  1. The potential of ecotourism to deliver sustainable tourism development

From the two case studies of ecotourism above, it is evident that eco tourism plays a very crucial role in sustainable tourism development. Since ecotourism has been found in this paper to be one of the contributing factors towards environmental impacts, it is clear that ecotourism plays a center stage in the development of a sustainable tourism development. As the society attempts to increase the earnings of tourism, there are often various impacts that accrue to the environment such as pollution and deforestation (Weaver, 2001). As a result, sustainable tourism activities such as reclamation as experienced in Israel and construction of national parks as experienced in Costa Rica will enable various tourism sectors to contribute to sustainable tourism development. This is possible because such ecotourism activities will lead to the conservation of the environment hence reducing environmental impacts on the local residents while at the same time enabling an enjoyment of tourism activities which contribute to tourism earnings in form of foreign exchange.

Ecotourism also enables the governments of most nations to experience economic growth and development through an enhanced balance between environmental conservation and sustainable tourism development. Without environmental concerns, environmental impacts may result hence causing a distortion of the ecological system and as a result the natural resources may be destroyed. This may lead to a reduction in the production capability of a given country, hence causing retardation in economic growth and development. Therefore, environmental concerns should be addressed in tourism activities so as to enhance sustainable tourism development that may effectively lead to economic growth and development.

Despite the benefits of ecotourism, there are various challenges that may hinder the achievement of the ideals of ecotourism. For instance, the tourism sector may be affected negatively by loopholes in the planning process of ecotourism as experienced in the Hula Valley case study. Some sections of the tourism sector may experience a backdrop in support of environmental conservations. This may lead to the reduced earnings of the tourism sector in an attempt to create an enabling environment. Another challenge experienced in ecotourism is inability to strike a balance between tourism and other sectors of the economy. High concentration of resources in ecotourism may lead to reduced equality in both income distribution and resource allocation between tourism and other sectors of the economy.

The above challenges need to be addressed in a number of ways. For instance, ecotourism may be considered as an activity that encompasses various sectors of the economy. It is then addressed by all the relevant sectors that may be affected by the ecotourism sector. For instance, if ecotourism is likely to affect agriculture, then tourism sector management should work in collaboration with the agricultural sector management so as to reach a consensus on the best policies and procedures that may be used to benefit both sectors equally.  This enhances an equal distribution of income and efficient allocation of resources in various sectors of the economy. Another remedial course of action that can be taken to avert the above challenges is also to set a good plan to execute ecotourism activities. The Hula valley project is one of the examples of cases where project planning plays a crucial role in ecotourism development. Project planning enables the ecotourism process to be in good progress and that the activities do not provide loopholes for failure while at the same time providing corrective actions for the areas where mistakes are experienced.

  1. Conclusion

Ecotourism is one of the most effective ways of enhancing sustainable tourism development. This paper has proved this assertion through the use of theories and case studies. It is clear that tourism activities may cause undesirable environmental impacts. As a result, tourists are encouraged to conserve the environment while enjoying their tourism activities. Such ecotourism activities lead to sustainable tourism development where tourism benefits the society at large and leads to economic growth and development. However, ecotourism may face challenges such as lack of balance with other sectors of the economy and loopholes in the planning process. These challenges may be addressed through inclusiveness and appropriate planning.


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B. Economics & Finance, B/ED, Writer, Educator with experience of 12 years in research and writing.

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