Ecotourism offers a viable alternative to large-scale, allegedly, ‘unsustainable’ mass tourism
Mick, et al. 2000 argues that Eco-tourism was not known only until the 1980’s where concept such as Eco-tourism started to surface. Mick, et al. 2000 further emphasizes that Ecotourism encourages tourists to preserve the nature of the placed involved and it depends on the environment of a destination. As a matter of fact as argued by Tim and Jennifer 2009, growth of all forms of tourism leads to modifications of the environment and ecotourism strives to keep the modifications at a minimum. It is therefore mandatory to take account of the modifications and assess Ecotourism and other tourism forms impact on the environment and the concerned individuals (Tim and Jennifer, 2009). The core elements of Ecotourism as presented by Gunn 2002 evolve around being in a nature based, educational to the visitors and it support conservation. Reid 2003 further explains that economic, Social and Environment are interlinking issues that have both negative and positive impacts on environments and respective societies. An examination of the social impacts of ecotourism became to be regarded as essential not only from an ethical perspective of the need for community involvement in decision-making process but also because without it, tourism growth and development may become increasingly difficult (Allen et al., 2007). This paper addresses various critical ecotourism issues from various perspectives, talking keen interest on the merits and demerit of ecotourism both to the environment and community. The paper examines the weaknesses of the concept of ecotourism, and thus elaborating why ecotourism has been categorized as unsustainable mass tourism.
Merits of Eco-Tourism
Hall and Richards, 2000 go against the statement made by various scholars that Ecotourism offers a viable alternative to large-scale, allegedly, ‘unsustainable’ mass tourism, by emphasizing that tourism by economic definition is defined by issues of economic growth and employment, which are of paramount concern (Hall and Richards, 2000). In term of economic growth, the simplest objective of the ecotourism is to attract more tourists to visit an area for economical gain. And at the same time, tourists are hoped to stay longer and spend more, thus generating more revenue for the tourism industry. As Allen et al., 2007 asserts, the other ecotourism benefit is to its stakeholders for example the Public government, the developers and more important the locals staying in the area.
Ecotourism and Ecology
To further the benefits of ecotourism, Briassoulis and Straaten 2000 argue that maintenance of ecological process and non-renewal resources is as a result of ecotourism, which would be forever damaged if there are no proper planning strategies to take care of it. With improving infrastructure brings about more accessibility options available for tourist, traveling to natural attractions, wild life and wilderness habitat (Sheryl and Geoffrey, 1999). This in turn helps to create employment for the locals in the place, working as guide among others as illustrated by Hall and Richards, 2000. However, this increase brings about problem to the maximum carrying capacity that the place can take. It might result in damage to the natural place being ruin once the damage has been done. Ensuring that the cost of infrastructure or usage of the place does not overweigh the cost needed for other purpose, an example would be residents have to pay higher tax or money needed for food and education draft for tourism instead (Allen et al., 2007).
According to Hall 2000, By using environmental interpretation in ecotourism would be able to tackle the problem by having effective interpretation in national parks it hopes to influence the visitors understanding attitude and behaviors towards the place and might help in developing visitor’s awareness, appreciation and understanding of the area visited better. Moscardo (2000) mention that interpretation is any activity that seek to explain the significance of an object, culture or place ,its three core functions are to enhance visitor experiences, to improve visitor knowledge or understanding and to assist in the protection or conservation of places and culture.
By setting zone to a place it would restrict visitor activity to the particular place. There will be designated area where there is intensive use area (Gunn, 2002, p .91). These areas in nature meant for tourist recreational activities such as stay, resting place, visitors’ information centre. This would minimize the environment as visitor movements are restricted in this way.
Nevertheless, the trend towards the development of tourism schemes projected as sustainable, based on nature, soft, ecotourism and green ventures has created various debates and concerns due to their potential implications on nature and community. According to Edgell, et al. 2008, there are various issues that ecotourism do not have sufficient scientific foundations and is thus not well equipped to come up with a conclusion that sustainable and practicable solutions to the world’s environment crisis. Edgell, et al. 2008, further give an example whereby World Bank regardless of their funding of the increasing biodiversity programmes entailing ecotourism, there is little evidence that the Banks have expertise and method of developing a concrete policy in the field.
Given that tourists come from diverse places, the mode being informed or getting knowledge of a particular tourist attraction is unlikely to be the same; or at least the mode is related to the place of origin of the tourist. This is notwithstanding the differentials in development from place to place (implying that the same mode of advertisement is least likely to be formality for all the places of origin). Since promoting a tourist destination to interested tourists will lead to a number of questions, an evaluation of the underpinning factors will help in carrying out the exercise beneficially.
Nature based tourism is becoming one of the fasting growth sector within the tourism industry. World Tourism Organization 2004 cited in TIES 2006 that eco-tourism and nature tourism was growing three times globally than the tourism industry as a whole. The improvement in infrastructure; better appreciation of the nature was cited as reasons for the growth. However nature tourism has its cause of concern as without proper planning, the destination would soon be ruined without recover.
Sustainable Approach of ecotourism
There is wide acceptance today that sustainability is one of the most important issues faced by the tourism industry according to Allen et al., 2007. The basic and primary objective of sustainability is providing lasting and secure livelihoods which minimises resource depletion, environmental degradation; cultural disruption and social instability (Hall, 2000). Poorly planned tourism projects, especially those aimed at the masses, would inevitably put pressure on the environment. However, environmental sustainability is inexorably bound up with economical, social and political sustainability (Richards and Hall, 2000).
Meeting the conditions of the sustainable approach is an environmental, economical, social and political issue that requires new ways of thinking about the nature and purpose of development and growth (Hall, 1998). These issues are interconnected together; a single issue cannot be resolved without getting the others right. Based on the research carried out by Hall and Lew 1998, Long term environmental conservation may be a significant less attractive idea then short term economic gain, which is especially so for developing countries (pg. 202). Hall and Lew 1998 further state that environmental degradation may antagonise the host community, which creates a social problem for the government. For developed countries, however, Briassoulis and Straaten 2000 advice that a sustainable development strategy should have the environment and the community at heart. Based on the assertions, I agree with Hall’s concept that ecology should be an indispensible basis for environmental planning in the regional setting, so an understanding of the natural processes becomes central to design and planning practices in urban areas and other sites (Hall, 2000).
Any planning on sustainability, environmental conservation should be the first goal. The second goal is community participation, Hall 2003 states that as well as being politically more acceptable, community involvement in tourism planning will involve stakeholder with different interests and attitudes, and this diverse participation can lead to more consideration being given to tourism’s varied economic, environmental and social impacts (Richards & Hall, 2000). Although sustainable tourism planning is complex, these two ideas should be central to any governments as well as tourism planners (Colin and Baum, 1995).
The growing significance of tourism as a source of income and employment according to Mick et al. 2000 has lead many governments to look at the economic approach. Under this approach, tourism is seen as an industry which can be used as a tool by governments to achieve certain goals of economic growth (Mick et al. 2000). Within the economic tradition, governments utilises tourism as a means to promote growth and development in specific areas (Hall, 2000). The emphasis of this approach is not social and environmental impacts but mostly on economic impacts.
Hall and Richards 2000 assert that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out in the process of designing ecotourism areas is the most effective method to see if there place is sustainable. Hall and Richards 2000 further argue that it is best carried out in all planned tourism development and existing development. Allen et al. 2007 and Bosselman et al. 1999 give a description of when EIA is applicable, if development has occurred, key area for display, nesting should be closed to tourist at certain time of the year. Undeveloped area relate to tourism development should be manage if necessary to recreate lost habitat. Ecotourism is usually more concerns about improving environment of the place or improving living standards for the locals than gaining profits from these groups of people, and usually their rewards are in terms of experiences they gain from the trip (Allen et al., 2007). This is on contrary to the assertions made that ecotourism is of less benefit.
Planning is an important aspect of tourism as Hall and Lew 1998 mention the need for planning is require as it would be able to help anticipate problems that might occur with a clear goal and directed process. In the context of tourism, there are a few assumption adopted by Gunn (1998) in regards to tourism planning. Tourism planning must also be strategic and integrative. Another purpose of having planning can provide the necessary guidance, to ensure that the different sectors in tourism such as historic parks transportation (Sheryl and Geoffrey, 1999), park facilities can be developed together in a integrated manner and thus the significance of ecotourism.
On the other hand, a proper planning would also be applicable to destinations that have no or little experience on how to develop the place (Briassoulis and Straaten, 2000). Without proper planning to the destination it would result in maximum damage cause to the sustainability of the place and this supports the statement that ecotourism offers a viable alternative to large-scale, allegedly, ‘unsustainable’ mass tourism. According to Murphy 1985, Colin and Baum 1995, planning is concerned with anticipating and regulating change to a system, to encourage arranged development so as to boost the social, economic and environmental advantages of the development process and never intended to cause a depletion of the natural resources.
As Reid 2003 states, Tourism as a tool for economic development can be important as tourism can stimulate the development of basic infrastructure; contributes to the growth of domestic industries that supplies the tourism industry; attract foreign investment and facilitate the transfer of technology and technical know-how (Colin and Baum, 1995). Investing in these four segments can be especially effective for developing countries. In order to satisfy the market demand, a nation, region, or community must be able to provide a variety of developments and services (Gunn, 2002). By investing into technologies and basic infrastructure, these developing countries can upgrade their existing facilities to attract more and higher spending tourists and also, create more employment opportunities for locals. The local community will benefit too, in terms of better infrastructure, higher income and possibly tax incentives as well (Allen et al., 2007). For the economy side, visitors generate a cash flow into the economy, which in turn fuels the economic engine (Richards and Hall, 2000). Under this model, Edgell et al. 2008 state that the economy is benefitted in the long run and some degree of social benefits and responsibilities are taken into consideration.
Environmental Impacts of tourism
There is a useful theory by Briassoulis and Straaten 2000 with regards to the relationship between tourism and the environment. It states that tourism interacts with the environment in the framework of a two way process. On the contrary, environmental resources give the essential ingredients for the production of the tourism product (Colin and Baum, 1995). Tourism produces a variety of unwanted by-products, which are intentionally and unintentionally disposed and modify the environment (Briassoulis and Straaten, 2000). For such a big ecotourism project, there can be many potential environmental issues. But in actual fact, developing the land as a single project has advantages as well (Gunn, 2002).
Taking an example, without the IR project, in may take the Marina Bayfront area 15 years or more to tender out the land in individual parcels, and to develop the area on the same scale. But with the IR project, it takes only four years to develop (Reid, 2003). Centralised development of the entire area resulted in better design of sewage and wastage disposal systems; there has also been a coordinated effort in environmental protection. For example, Marina Bay Sands resort has a sky park right on top its three towers (Colin and Baum, 1995). This garden in the city is not only a new concept but it also cuts energy cost as well, a ‘win win’ situation for all.
It can be seen that having an effective framework on planning in ecotourism is the principle issue of any tourism development. In the case study on Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve by Edgell et al., 2007, the Government has already set a long term planning of the place that was developed. By also seeking opinion from local community to preserve the place was part of fostering community approaches to planning. With the emergence of voluntary tourism is of great help to areas where it is applied as voluntary work to clear the coastal area to enable mangrove growth. The various tools of sustainability and eco-tourism was also implemented to ensure that visitors experiences would not be minimise by imposing restrictions on arrivals and alternation of routes (Edgell et al., 2007).
Tourist would also be involve by the educating the right information on the danger they might cause and thus minimise the impact that they imposed to a place. Sustainability of a place, should not be overly-dependent from the government which sets the policy (Colin and Baum, 1995). It is a continuous effort from all parties involving the sponsors HSBC being one of them. There should be more corporate organisation supporting the government vision to support sustainability in a country, to create awareness between Public- Private Sectors.
I am therefore against the statement often argued, by developers, planners and businesses alike, that ecotourism offers a viable alternative to large-scale, allegedly, and ‘unsustainable’ mass tourism. It is clearly evident that ecotourism has many benefits as opposed to its demerits.
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