The Importance of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is increasing in popularity across the world, but has significant practical value in developing countries where the needs of impoverished communities may conflict directly with the need to capitalise on the growing tourism industry. In many cases developers move in and designate certain areas as tourism hotspots without giving much thought to the impact that this will have on local communities. These communities may depend on the area for food and shelter, but their concerns are buried beneath the potential for financial revenue.
Ecotourism is a move to counter this. It aims to create viable and sustainable tourism opportunities, and limit the impact that all related activities will have on the environment, while improving the lives of the local people living in the area. According to Ecotourism.org, the concept consists of a number of core principles, including:
• Minimising industrial impact on the environment
• Building environmental and cultural awareness
• Empowering local communities
• Raising awareness of the political, environmental and social issues of the country concerned, and
• Ensuring that the experience is positive for all parties, including visitors and hosts
The aim is to achieve sustainable and responsible tourism practices to the benefit of all and the detriment of none. One of the most important factors in the success of any ecotourism venture is knowledge. Those proposing the project must gain intimate knowledge of the area, the fauna, the flora and the communities living there. They must understand how they impact on each other and how a change in one will affect the rest. They must understand the culture governing the people's relationship with the environment, and how they view concepts such as territory, hunting, farming and gathering materials for personal use.
It's vital to include the local communities in the project, not merely as grateful beneficiaries of charity, but as empowered and informed team members. Their input is to be valued, as chances are that they understand the area and complex ecosystems better than anyone else involved in the project.
The ultimate goal is to create a sustainable resource that protects both the people and the nature involved. Over 20 years ago, in 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development stated that sustained development implied, "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This sentiment is just as applicable now as it was then.
Equally important is that within in all this concern for sustainability and empowerment, we don't forget the tourism aspect of ecotourism. In 2002, the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism stated that responsible tourism should provide a more enjoyable experience for tourists through meaningful interaction with local people, and a greater understanding of cultural, social and environmental issues. It is the tourist-dollar (or Pound) that we are after, and to get it we have to ensure that what we offer is worthwhile. What's important is that with a little planning and a little compassion, all of this can be achieved.
Sandra wrote this article for the online marketers Outlook SGE specialists in South African safaris one of the most successful companies organising safaris, catering especially to smaller groups.