|Ecotourists in Musomagor forest (Ghana)|
In recent times, the quest for alternative forms of tourism to replace the traditional mass tourism phenomenon has resulted in new forms of tourism being proposed. Since the traditional mass tourism phenomenon was seen as being environmentally degrading, lacks respect for local culture, causes leakages and encourages the use of natural resources in an unsustainable manner, new forms of tourism were proposed to serve as an alternative to mass tourism. Prominent among these alternative forms of tourism is ecotourism.
The term ecotourism as the word suggest means tourism that deals with the ecology or the environment. Thus, ecotourism is a form of tourism that mainly involves travelling to natural environments. A lot of scholars have tried to define ecotourism in their own ways but the underlying element of travel to natural environments and conservation of those natural environments is common to all the definitions. According to the International Ecotourism Society, “Ecotourism is the responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of people”. This definition gives a clear understanding of what ecotourism is really made up of. It states three main important elements that need to be taken notice of. These include;
- Responsible travel to natural areas
- Conserves the environment
- improves the well being of the people
The following paragraphs will try to explain the main elements of the definition given by the International Ecotourism Society with reference to the seven (7) principles of ecotourism given by Martha Honey (1999). These principles are supposed to guide every ecotourism project or activity. The principles as stated by Martha Honey are;
- Ecotourism should involve travel to natural destinations.
- It should minimize impacts on the environment
- Ecotourism should be built on environmental awareness
- Ecotourism should provide direct financial benefits for conservation
- Ecotourism should respect local culture
- It should provide support for human rights and democratic movements
- It should provide direct financial benefits for the local people.
The first principle states that, ecotourism should involve travel to natural destinations. This means that, the ecotourism activity should take place in a natural environment. Natural environments include places such as wildlife sanctuaries, forest areas, mountaineous regions, ramsar sites and others. Unlike mass tourism which mainly involves travel to built up areas and sophisticated attractions such as theme parks, ecotourism is based on the natural ecology where plants, animals, climates and landscapes are the components. The ecotourist in his quest to visit any destination must consider the nature of the destination and also select destinations that are nature based.
The second principle states that ecotourism should minimize impacts on the environment. Since ecotourism involves travel to natural environments, the activities of tourist and other stakeholders are likely to affect the environment. Activities such as cutting down of trees for camping and building materials, littering, poaching, using transportation that emits dangerous gases into the atsmosphere can impact negatively on the environment. It is therefore important for every stakeholder in the ecotourism activity to take effective steps to minimize their impacts on the environment. For example, a tourist can decide to ride a bicycle or walk to an ecotourism site instead of taking a car to prevent the emission of carbon monoxide at the site.
The third principle by Martha Honey states that, ecotourism should be built on environmental awareness. Every ecotourism activity or project needs to take the environment into consideration since the environment is the reason for which ecotourism thrives. Every stakeholder in the ecotourism activity, that is, the ecotourist, the local community, the service providers, the non governmental organasations and the government should be aware of the important role the environment is playing in the ecotourism activity. This knowledge will help to prevent any negative activity that has the potential of degrading the environment. A practical way in which all the stakeholders can be made aware of the importance of the environment is by education.
The fourth principle states that, ecotourism should provide direct financial benefits for conservation. This means that, ecotourism activities should generate the required income for the protection and conservation of the resources on which they depend. When tourists visit ecotourism sites, they pay gate fees and other service charges. Businesses within the ecotourism industry such as travel agencies, tour wholesalers and ecolodges also pay taxes and some other charges. The funds generated from these charges should be made available to be used to conserve the ecotourism sites so as to sustain them for the future generations. Some practical ways of conserving ecotourism resources can include; fencing the resource, employing guards to enforce laws at ecotourism sites and providing alternative livelihood for the local people who depend on the resource.
|Respect for local culture|
The fifth principle states that, ecotourism should respect local culture. Every ecotourism resource is located in an area where other people are already occupying. These people may have cultures and ways of doing things that are different from the way the ecotourist behave. It is therefore important on the part of the ecotourist to accept the culture of places they are visiting on its own term. Ecotourism is not only about enjoying the natural resources that a particular destination has to offer. It also involves learning new things, which includes the culture of the people living in the area being visited. Some practical ways in which ecotourists can show respect for the local culture includes; asking permission before taking photograph of local people, dressing appropriately, speaking at least a few words of the local language, avoid displaying expensive jewellery or cameras particularly in very poor communities and asking questions rather than assuming they have all the answers. (Cooper et all, 2008 fourth edition: page 235).
The sixth principle states that, ecotourism should provide support for human rights and democratic movements. This means that, every ecotourism project or activity should focus on the rights of the local people. It must be noted that, the local people living in a particular ecotourism destination already have a life before the area has been discovered for ecotourism. Therefore, it is important for all the stakeholders in the ecotourism industry to accept the people as such and also to respect their basic human rights as they develop and use the area for ecotourism. A practical way in which the human rights and demands of the local people can be taken into consideration is the adoption of the community participation and the bottom- up approach in decision making. When the local people are involve in decisions concerning their area, they are able to bring out their misfeelings about the project and are also able to suggest ways in which those misfeelings can be avoided. This goes a long way to benefit them and also to protect their rights.
Finally, the last principle of ecotourism as given by Martha Honey states that, ecotourism should provide direct financial benefits to the local people. Ecotourism should not only benefit the government, service providers and the environment. It should also benefit the local people financially. The local people should be able to earn income from the ecotourism activity or project. Through this, they can be able to fully support the project and also prevent any form of hostility that may arise if they are not gaining any benefit from the project. Ecotourism can provide financial benefits to the local people by creating jobs or employment opportunities for the local people through which they can earn income. The local people can sell crafts, sourvenirs, and foodstuffs to tourists in return for income. Some can also serve as local tour guides. The local leaders can also benefit from royalties payed to them by the government and other service providers. These royalties can be used in the development of the area.
From the above discussed principles and the definition given by the International Ecotourism Society, it can be seen that ecotourism thrives on three main issues. That is, it involves travel to natural environments; it seeks to protect the environment and also seeks to provide benefits to the local people. This therefore means that, every ecotourism project or activity should take into consideration these issues and also strive to maintain them in order to be regarded as an ecotourism activity.
For more info consult these books
- Tourism Principles and Practices (Chris Cooper, John Fletcher, Alan Fyall, David Gilbert and Stephen Wanhil) fourth edition, Prentice Hall
- Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (Martha Honey) Island Press