The purpose of ecotourism

Gorilla, the purpose of ecotourism

Over the past decades, the term ‘ecotourism’ has become quite common for travelers around the world. Travel agencies swear by it to promote green touristic activities and encourage tourists to book their holidays with them. However, in many cases, the concept of ecotourism has been used simply as a false front to make money rather than serve its real purpose.

What exactly is ecotourism?

Ecotourism is not a new concept. A new name at most, but conservation of natural resources through education and proper management has long preexisted. Back in the old days, our ancestors understood that they had to give nature time to bloom again when the level of resources was getting low.

Today, the International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as the ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people, and involves interpretation and education’ [1]. Ecotourism thus is not only visiting natural places; it also involves travelling to these places by the best ways to prevent ecological damage, investing into the preservation of these areas and improving the lives of the local populations (through entrance fees, souvenirs etc.) and understanding the importance of these natural spots. Money that is generated through the various ‘eco-activities’ is used to care for these fragile ecosystems.

The purpose of ecotourism

Natural resource management

As it is, ecotourism serves a very important purpose in resource management. It is one of the best ways to preserve and protect local resources which otherwise could disappear or get exploited. Conservation of mountain gorillas in Uganda exemplifies this scenario perfectly. Most of these primates live in the Virunga Mountains bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and a lesser amount inhabit the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda. Subject to poachers, habitat destruction, snares and diseases, the number of mountain gorillas decreased considerably in the mid-1970s.

Today, they have reached 800 individuals [2] in the wild thanks to conservation efforts involving the active participation of the local communities. Had it not been for the involvement of the local people who know where the gorillas live and how they behave, the mountain gorillas could have gone extinct.

Source of income for the least developed countries

The beautiful country of Costa Rica, well known for its serenity and natural landscapes, is one of the most visited ecotourism destinations in the world. It generated $800 million in the year 2000 alone [3] and this has increased significantly to $1000 per tourist in 2018 [4]. People fly to the country year in and year out to enjoy the lush vegetation, uncommon fauna and breathtaking views. Like Costa Rica, several countries and islands depend heavily on their natural environment and their potential to attract tourists to sustain their economies.

Investing in ecotourism is of vital importance for many emerging economies. The uniqueness of their territories attract tourists which at the same time causes money to flow in. Nepal, for example, presents an exotic journey for tourists with its various ecological biomes and cultural richness. Ecological activities range from sightseeing the tallest mountains in the world to trekking and hot air ballooning. Ecotourism is hence a way to alleviate poverty and offer societal equity.

Snow covered Himalaya Mountain in Nepal
Snow covered Himalaya Mountain in Nepal

Involvement of the local population

The most charming places in the world are often well hidden in remote places, often accessible to a few people who know of their existence. The Amazon forest, for instance, one of the most visited regions of South America, is a wonder to nature travelers. At the same time, it is huge and only the tribes living within it are well acquainted with the local region. With this idea of familiarity in mind, ecotourism started as a booming industry in the 1990s for many indigenous people who were willing to share their experience with outsiders to better their lives [5].

Two grey and brown small Amazon squirell monkeys with green backdrop
Two Amazon squirell monkeys

For ecotourism to be a success, the local population has to be involved in the scenario. Most of the time, exclusive nations refuse funds and help to raise their standards of living. But when such opportunities of using what they already have to make money presents, they are willing to be involved and try some new concepts. They serve as guides, hosts and build touristic infrastructures and souvenirs with their means. The harmony of natural preservation and satisfaction of locals is thus maintained.

The traveler and ecotourism

As it is, ecotourism is not visiting a marine park on a speed boat that is spilling motor oil along the way. Nor is it partying on man-made islets that have destroyed the surrounding natural space. Ecotourism enhances the knowledge of the traveler on the natural environment so that he is better equipped to preserve it and encourage others to do so. Most importantly, it is the bread and butter of many poor societies and it also strengthens natural resource management.

References:

  1. The International Ecotourism Society. Definition. [Online] Available at https://ecotourism.org/what-is-ecotourism/ [Accessed 08/07/2019]
  2. WCS Uganda. Gorillas. [Online] Available at https://uganda.wcs.org/Wildlife/Gorillas.aspx [Accessed 08/07/2019]
  3. Kasalak, M.A. (2015). Dünya’da ekoturizm pazarı ve ekoturizm’in ülke gelirlerine katkıları. Journal of Recreation and Tourism Research.2 (2), ISSN: 2348-5321, pp. 20-26
  4. Agudelo, G. (2019). Tourism: One of the main driving forces of Costa Rica’s economy. The Costa Rica News. [Online] Available at https://thecostaricanews.com/tourism-oneof-the-main-driving-forces-of-costa-ricas-economy/ [Accessed 08/07/2019]
  5. Wood, E.M. (1998) Meeting the global challenge of community participation in ecotourism: case studies and lessons from Ecuador. America Verde Publications, Latin America and Caribbean Division. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia.
  6. Images: www.pixabay.com

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