11 pages/≈3025 words
Ecotourism as a Form of Sustainable Tourism Assignment (Term Paper Sample)
To: Mrs Rosemary Kowour
Ecotourism as a form of sustainable tourism: Theory and Practice
â€˜Tourism kills tourism,â€™ is a statement that best captures the exploitative and destructive nature of tourism from loss of habitats to depletion and contamination of natural resources. Without necessary checks and balances to minimize these unfavorable impacts, tourism may endanger the very ecological assets on which they depend (Wood, 2002).
The massive influx of tourist places enormous pressure on the environment. Stevens (2003) argues that the continued use of logs by camping groups and the cutting down of trees has led to thinning of vegetation in the Mt. Everest region. This increased loss of natural habitats heightens the vulnerability of endangered species (Munarura, Backman & Sabuhuro, 2013). Tourism like any other industry is responsible for different kinds of pollutions from carbon emissions, solid waste and littering, sewage release, noise and visual pollution (UNEP, 2001).
In Mediterranean regions, demand of freshwater exceeds supply and this is further exacerbated by the massive flow of water to swimming pools and golf courses for use by tourists. In Thailand it is estimated that an average golf course uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers while in Spain a tourist uses 440 litres a day compared to dwellers who use 250 litres a day, this number doubles if the tourist uses golf courses and swimming pools (Stephano, 2003; Barnett, 2011, Kotler, 2008)
Growing concerns over environmental degradation and discontent with mass tourism led to the emergence of sustainable tourism as a plausible substitute to mass tourism. Sustainable tourism is defined as â€˜tourism that leads to the management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems (WTO, 2004).â€™
Over the years sustainable tourism has grown into a large pool with multiple niches commonly referred to as alternative tourism. Nature, rural, community-based, green and life-seeing tourism are just some of the sustainable tourism approaches. Eco-tourism is one such alternative approach believed to be a subset of nature tourism.
The term eco-tourism in itself has been subject to debate in both international and academic fora. However, there seems to be a consensus on the guiding principles of ecotourism. Eco-tourism entails three main components: the preservation of natural pristine ecosystems; the sensitization of both tourists and locals on the value of sustainability and profiting local people. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES, 2006) defines ecotourism as "Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." In 2004 it was estimated that the eco-tourism sector was developing three times faster than other forms of tourism (WTO, 2004 cited in TIES 2006)
Just like eco-tourism, mass tourism has no clear definitions and tends to be described in terms of its manifestation. Seasonal and climatic factors influence to a great extend the big inflow of tourist who flock tourist destination during summer months. Unlike alternative tourism that is characterized by small groups and year round activities aimed at generating average capacities, mass tourism is distinguished by an influx of tourists, high population movement and congestion (Hauser, 2009).
Hauser (2009) highlights three approaches that can be used to describe mass tourism; the number of tourists; the magnitude of tourism impact to local conditions; the temporary or permanent nature of the resulting effects and impacts relates to the destination carrying capacities or limits. A common argument put forth is that mass tourism corrodes natural systems by exceeding the carrying capacity. However, establishing definite limits or measuring tourist impacts defies easy evaluation since there are no absolute indicators for measuring carrying capacities vis-Ã -vis impacts (Hauser, 2009)
Mass tourism impact on the environment has been of particular concern. Housing land and natural habitats are taken up by hotels and villas. Hawaii, once a beautiful natural island is now barely unrecognizable with numerous skyscrapers, six lane highways and an influx of tourists (Goldsmith, 1974). The coral reefs of Barbados are being mutilated by the toppling and trampling of divers and the dropping and dragging of anchors by tourist divers (Responsible Travel, 2010). The excessive extraction of water to be used for golf courses has exacerbated the water scarcity problems in some regions like Goa and Benidorm. Air travel, the most common mean of transport used by most tourists continues to be the leading cause of global warming, not to mention the carbon emitted by tour carriers.
Mass tourism has also been accused of being insensitive to the local peopleâ€™s need and culture. The economic benefits of tourism are sometimes not felt by the local people due to foreign exchange leakage and foreign ownership of tourist amenities. For example, the Dominican Republic a popular tourist destination in the Caribbean which reported high economic growth in the 1996-2000 had an estimated 90% of its population living in poverty. The lack of economic trickle down was attributed to the fact that most of the tourist amenities were owned by foreigners. Worse still, the cultural heritage of the local people is either ignored or corroded by mass tourist advocates who seek to "construct a superficial exoticism" (Responsible Travel, 2010).
Mass tourism is a form of sun, sand, sea and sex wholesale tourism (Goldsmith, 1974). The objective for many mass tourism stakeholders is making money fast. As a result, mass tourism is insensitive to the environmental, cultural and social impacts presented by tourist activities.
However mass tourism is not entirely a dooms package as the considerable expansion of infrastructure and revenue generated from tourist activities can go a long way in contributing towards a countryâ€™s economy and development. For instance, 20% of Jamaicaâ€™s economy depends on tourism even though this over-reliance on tourism has also been questioned.
Alternative tourism approaches were born out of a need to remedy mass tourism adverse effects. Sustainable tourism stresses the importance of preserving natural and cultural treasures and aims at boosting long-term socio-economic development of tourist destinations. However, if poorly implemented, â€˜sustainable tourismâ€™ approaches may end up being as destructive as mass tourism.
CHALLENGES OF ECO-TOURISM
Over the years, ecotourism has emerged as a low impact, small scale approach to sustainable nature tourism. IUCN (1996) captures the whole essence of eco-tourism through this description:
Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any cultural features) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations. (IUCN, 1996)
The goal of ecotourism is to maintain the monetary and societal benefits of tourism growth while mitigating any unfavorable effects on the natural, cultural and historic setting. This is accomplished by matching touristsâ€™ desires with the needs of the local area.
Although eco-tourism is intended to be a form of sustainable tourism it is not automatically sustainable. In fact, cases have proved that depending on how it is implemented, ecotourism can be equally destructive as mass tourism.
The lack of a clear-cut definition of ecotourism lends it to different interpretations and application. Weaver (2001) argues that the term ecotourism has been rendered meaningless due to the vagaries and ambiguities surrounding the term. The term is used arbitrarily to express anything related to nature or green tourism (Kurt Kay quoted in Honey 1999). Eco-tourism is equated with the many shades of green tourism such as nature, responsible, green, and sustainable tourism.
Application of eco-tourism is further complicated by the fact that there are no clear indicators to measure for sustainable eco-tourism. Stem, Lassole, Lee and Deshler (2003) outline different levels of ecotourism, active vs. passive, hard vs. soft or deep vs. shallow. This lack of hard-lined positions has led to the green washing of ecotourism.
Green sells and the prefix Eco is employed as marketing gimmick with the sole purpose of boosting sales. Ecotourism is being promoted by mass market companies who have no commitment to the environment, the local people or the culture. To some, ecotourism simply means visiting exotic natural destinations or any green activity. These misleading packages have rendered ecotourism meaningless given that the eco-claims are not enforced or demonstrated.
Imposing limits in terms of the carrying capacities is a key principle of sustainable tourism. Carrying capacities operate as guidelines for determining the use and impact of tourist activities vis-Ã -vis the physical, biological, psychological and social resources of the tourist destination (Coccossis, 2004). The tourism industry has traditionally depended on high market demand and expansion and therefore imposing limits seems ludicrous. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the application of carrying capacities defies easy implementation due to the dearth of knowledge and lack of universally accepted indicators of carrying capacity (Hauser, 2009).
The lack of understanding of what constitutes an ecotourism experience and the green washing of ecotourism have resulted in the poor unsustainab...
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