Eco-tourism or ecological tourism is as much about responsibility
as it is about the joys of being in the midst of nature. Today, international
tourism earns more than automotive products. Man is an inveterate traveler. His
desire to reach across to foreign shores and understand a culture different
from his own gave birth to travel. Tourism is the commercial offshoot of that
cultural activity. With that definition in mind, eco-tourism can be thought of
as a slightly distinct activity.
Eco-tourism is defined by The International Eco-tourism
Society (TIES) as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the
environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
Therefore, eco-tourism is not only about enjoying the natural
heritage of an indigenous locale but also creating a sustainable relationship
with it. Eco-tourism seek not only to create a congenial atmosphere for the
visitor but also two other important touch points –
1. Ensure sensitivity to the local environment.
2. Promote sustainable use of biodiversity by involving the
local population in environmentally friendly activities.
A properly chalked out ecotourism plan seeks to minimize the
environmental impact of tourist footfalls while seeking to raise the
socio-economic profile of an area. Probably, this is why ecotourism has climbed
the agenda of every country as they seek to reap the benefits of this latest
standard. In some countries, especially of Africa, ecotourism garners a
significant portion of the GDP. For example, Namibia’s tourism industry comes
just behind mining and agriculture.
Of late, eco-tourism has entered the mind space because of
greater environmental awareness. While this is a positive development, what
remains to be examined are the fallouts of this trend on the society and the
environment around us.
Eco-tourism and its socio-cultural impact –
The Positive: Eco-tourism is the melting pot of cultures and
people. National and/or local pride is a direct manifestation of how
appreciative a foreign culture is of one’s own. Income generated through
eco-tourism benefits the locals and keeps migration for jobs at bay. Local
knowledge also stays within the community and is passed on. A successful
example can be found in a developed country – Canada. Nunavut in Northern
Canada chose eco-tourism as a viable industry. A successful effort saw the
preservation the Aboriginal and Inuit communities.
The Negative: There is a very high probability of a culture
clash. Outside influences can wreck havoc with the ethnic way of living. Local
culture and heritage should be showcased but often it is ‘packaged’ to conform
to Western expectations. Bastardization of customs into pop culture is an ever
present danger. Also, eco-tourism often forms the single source of revenue for
a community. Any cyclical changes in the economy affect it as a whole. The
island of Dominica rushed headlong into eco-tourism. Today, corruption and
environmental degradation has left its industry in shambles.
Eco-tourism and its economic impact –
The Positive: Eco-tourism has amply demonstrated its
potential to be a huge dollar earner. The money earned should be ploughed back
into the local society. This can go to create a better life for the local
populace though schools, better roads and hospitals. Through taxes and consumer
spending the whole country stands to benefit the fruits of eco-tourism. Again,
the funds generated through eco-tourism can be used for the preservation of the
fount itself, the natural resource.
The Negative: Two stumbling blocks directly emerge from an
ill managed eco-tourism plan. The first is ‘enclave tourism’. This describes a
situation wherein eco-tourism is sold as a ‘package’ most often in the country
of the traveler. This means that very little currency gets into the hands of
the local community. ‘Import Leakage’ is another difficulty. To meet the luxury
demands of particular tourists, locals must import other goods from outside.
For e.g. beverages and food. This essentially means that wealth leaves the
community to pay for outside imports. Eco-tourism at the cost of the
environment puts a load on the local resources. Scarce resources have to
compete with volume of tourist traffic.
Eco-tourism and its environmental impact –
The Positive: The most valuable contribution of eco-tourism
is the preservation of biodiversity. Biodiversity is increasingly looked upon
as a sustainable asset and eco-tourism forms a vital cog of it. The world’s
largest wetlands in Brazil’s Pantanal’s are also a large grazing ground for the
beef industry. Mostly populated by private ranches, a sustainable development
plan as an eco-tourism destination made it a success story.
The Negative: Eco-tourism improperly managed means a
walkthrough by droves of tourists through virgin lands. This invasion rapidly
spirals into an orgy of opportunism as everybody attempts to cash in.
Environmental degradation follows. The popularity of an eco-tourism destination
could be directly proportional to its rate of destruction. Local flora stand to
be harvested for economic gain thus eroding their natural value. The
destruction of native butterfly species followed rapid development of
infrastructure for eco-tourism in Mexico.
Eco-tourism remains a story of triumphs and failures. In the
end when we total up all the pluses and minuses, we as preservers must realize
that eco-tourism must not be only about plants and animals but also a little
about the people who are born around it. It is about sustainability or its
converse. And its ripple effects.