The Concept of Ecotourism Essay

The Concept of Ecotourism Essay.

The researchwithin the area of ecotourism still appears to be at its infancy stage. The definitional perspective of the concept is lacking both in terms of scope and criteria used, as well as in aspects of its planning and operationalisation. There are a variety of ecotourismdefinitions all reflecting a range of paradigms and perspectives. The view that this article has taken is that the definition of ecotourismis not really necessary if the discussion focuses on the concepts rather than the issues implied by ecotourism.

Hence, it seems that ecotourismdefinitions could range from passive to active stances incorporating the three common concepts in the form of trade-off scenarios.

The three common concepts within ecotourism are natural-based, educational, and sustainable (which includes economic and social criteria).Within these components, both benefits and costs exist, and in some circumstances there is disequilibrium towards greater costs. Fundamentally, ecotourism could merit wider credibility, but only when the different actors involved avoid overmarketing, and control the overuse of its products by consumers.

In light of these pitfalls, this paper focuses on the three components of ecotourismand includes a reviewof ecotourism’s definitions followed by an examination of its natural-based,sustainabilityand educational components. It concludeswith the future state of ecotourismresearch in light of the changes in trends in the tourism industry.


The termecotourism emerged in the late 1980s as a direct result of theworld’s acknowledgment and reaction to sustainable practices and global ecological practices. In these instances, the natural-based element of holiday activities together with the increased awareness to minimise the ‘antagonistic’ impacts of tourism on the environment (which is the boundless consumption of environmental resources) contributed to the demand for ecotourism holidays. This demandwas also boosted by concrete evidence that consumers had shifted away from mass tourism towards experiences that were more individualistic and enriching.

In addition, these experiences were claimed to be associated with a general search for the natural component during holidays (Kusler, 1991a, b; Hvenegaard, 1994; Dowling, 1996). Generally speaking, the grounds in which ecotourism operates are associated with the alternative forms of tourism or special interest travel, and the tourismproducts generated fromthese segments. Here, the concern which emerged was that although ecotourism generated a large volume of demand both from the consumers and the stakeholders, it became subject to claims that it was a new form ofmass tourism. Looking at the evidence of this claim, the literature on ecotourism is divided into two broad schools of thought (Jaakson, 1997; Diamantis, 1998a):

Scope and Definitional Perspective of Ecotourism

Global estimates revealed that in Australia and New Zealand, 32%of visitors search for the scenery, wild plants, and wildlife, as part of their trip. In Africa, 80% of tourists who visited countries in this continent named wildlife as a primary motivational attribute. In North America, 69–88%of the European and Japanese travellers considered wildlife and bird-watching to be themost important attributes of their visits. In LatinAmerica, 50–79%of
visitors advocated that visits to protected areas represented an important factor in choosing such destinations. In America, it was claimed that over 100 million people participated in wildlife activities,ofwhich 76.5millionwere related to viewingwildlife, and 24.7 millionwere interested in bird-watching (Filion et al., 1994;USTC, 1993).This has generated over $20 billion in economic activitywith an estimated growth of 30% per year.

In all the cases, itwas estimated that tourism in the natural and wildlife settings accounted for a total 20–40% of international tourism receipts, with an estimate that it will increase by 20–50% per year (Filion et al., 1994). However, despite the fact that these statistical estimates have not been matched by any commonly acceptable data, there is a growing concern that this segment accounts for a significant proportion ofworld travel.Herein lies the first major concern about ecotourismthat ofmeasuring the number of visitors participating in ecotourismholidays, as there is a breadth of definitions and large scope of activities. Certain limitations also arise from the spectrum within which ecotourism operates. A variety of terms have been introduced to describe the same phenomenon whichmay be referred to as nature travel, nature-orientated tourism, nature tourism, nature–based tourism, sustainable tourism, alternative tourism and special interest tourism (Laarman & Durst, 1987; Durst & Ingram, 1988; Wilson & Laarman, 1988; Valentine, 1992;Hall &Weiler, 1992;Diamantis, 1998a).

On this point, it has been noted that it ismore feasible to treat ecotourismas a spectrumwith a variety of products rather than attempting to define ecotourism from a specific stance or product (Wight, 1993a, b). More specifically, it was claimed that the spectrum includes both (Wight, 1993b: 57):

· supply factors (nature and resilience of resources; cultural or local community preferences; types of accommodation); and · demand factors (types of activities and experiences; degree of interest in natural or cultural resources; degree of physical effort).

In this event, however, there is evidence to illustrate that ecotourism is not 94 Current Issues in Tourism meeting existing demand, but is driven by a demandwhich evolved through the marketing practices of this form of travel by the supply side. Despite such recognition, this concept has still not got a common definition, making it the most important tourism buzzword of this decade. However, there are a number of conceptual attempts that define the concept of ecotourism. In particular, it was claimed that the definitional structure of ecotourism is based on two approaches (Steward & Sekartjakrarini, 1994):

(1) the activity-based perspective of ecotourism; and
(2) the definition regarding ecotourism as an industry.

Here, the former type is divided into definitions which attest the role of ecotourists or ‘what ecotourists actually do’, and definitions which detail the value-based component of ecotourismwith focus on minimum impact and local culture elements, or ‘what ecotourists should do’ (Steward & Sekartjakrarini, 1994:840).The latter type attests the supply characteristicsof ecotourismas a tool for conservation and development based on the interrelationship between the local community and tourism. In addition, ecotourism definitions have been treated as a continuum of paradigms based on polar extremes (Orams, 1995a: 4) (see Figure 1).

Orams (1995a) argues that the majority of ecotourism definitions lie between the passive position and the active position towards the high responsibility pole on the continuum.He further suggested that the desired state is tomove fromthe minimum passive position towards a higher or active pole of the continuum. The active polemainly emphasises the actions of protecting the environment and the behavioural intentions of ecotourists,whereas the passive position concentrates solely on ecotourism development, not enhancing the antagonistic impacts or the ecotourists’ need to be satisfied. Ecotourism has also been defined based on Evolution and Trends of Ecotourism 95

Ceballos-Lascurain’s (1987) definition viewed ecotourismin the light of experiential and ‘educational factors of the protected natural areas’. He claimed that ecotourism is a multi-dimensional philosophical concept,which is a component of eco-development and requires planning based on strict
guidelines and regulations that will enhance the sustainable operation (1991a, b, 1993a, 1993b). He suggested that ecotourists profile characteristics attest an awareness and knowledge about the natural environment and cultural aspects, in such away ‘thatwill convert him or her into somebody keenly involved in conservation issues’ (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1991a: 25).

Ceballos-Lascurain drew the comparison between mass tourists and ecotourists over the natural-based utilisation. Both groups are keen to go to the natural areas but themass tourist has amore passive rolewith nature, participating in activitieswhichdo not relate to the true concern over nature or ecology such as watersports, jogging, and biking (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1991a, b). On the other hand, ecotourists are attracted to a natural area and have amore active role through a non-consumptive use ofwildlife and natural resources, through activities suchas nature photography, botanical studies, and observing wildlife.

It is evident fromCeballos-Lascurain’s definition of ecotourismthat activities which ecotourists participate in can only exist in well-preserved or protected areas. Here, it was claimed that ecotourism’s association with protected areas is valid as it enhances the conservation element (Norris, 1992: 34;Warner, 1991: 44; Wall, 1994: 5), although the definition does not mention the responsibility of the ecotourism industry for environmental conservation (Wen & Tisdell, 1995). Neither does it address the economic impacts which this form of tourism can generate, the resource degradation, visitor satisfaction, and positive impacts on thewildlife.

On the other hand, it has been proclaimed that it does not ignore the indigenous people who often inhabit such natural settings, who are both part of the environment and their culture enhances the visitors’ interests (Figgis, 1993: 8). Further, Ceballos-Lascurain’s definition was also viewed as being situated in the passive position towards the low responsibility pole (Orams, 1995a: 4) [see Figure 1], mainly highlighting the characteristics of the destination such as the natural settings (Wall, 1994: 5).

96 Current Issues in Tourism

In this setting, Ziffer (1989) viewed ecotourism from an active stance highlighting ‘the conservation, natural-based, economic and cultural components of ecotourism’ (see Table 1). The concept not only enhances the increased pattern of visits to the natural environment,but serves as an ethic of howto turn to the natural environment ensuring a minimum impact on its resource base (Ziffer, 1989). Further, Ziffer highlighted that ecotourism requires planning or a managed approach which balances economic, social and environmental goals. However, she distinguished between the concepts of ecotourism and nature tourism. She claimed that ecotourism is a more comprehensive concept based on a planned approach by the destination authorities, whereas nature tourism is more consumer-based and not ecologically sound (Ziffer, 1989: 6).

Further, she suggested that ecotourism requires the destination to establish a programme based on a multi-faced conservation and development approach in order for the destination to qualify as an ecotourism destination (Ziffer, 1989: 5–8; Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996: 22). The immediate limitation of such a proposal however, is which authority or organisation is going to assess the destination programme and grade the eco-label for the destinations.

This is at the center of the debate not only for the concept of ecotourism but it is also applicable to the sustainable development concept. The difficulty to implement such a programme is grounded in the definition of ecotourism. Ziffer (1989: 5) points out that perhaps one of the reasons why ecotourismhas eluded a firm definition is because of itsmulti-purpose in that it attempts to describe an activity, set forth a philosophy, while at the same time espouse a model of development. Nevertheless ecotourism claimed to provide economic benefits through natural resources preservation, offering potential benefits for both conservation and development (Boo, 1990; 1991a: 54; 1991b: 4; 1992; 1993).

In particular Boo (1990: 10) defined ecotourism similarly to the definition given by Ceballos-Lascurain, emphasising the natural-based component of the concept (see Table 1). Here, ecotourism not only encompasses the natural and conservationcomponents,but also the economic and educationalelements. In all the cases, similar to Ziffer’s approach, Boo suggested that for ecotourism to reveal its benefits it requires effective planning strategies so that conservation of resources could address the sustainablemanagement of such resources (1991a, b; 1992; 1993).However, she stressed that the benefits of ecotourism to the destination largely depend on the scale of tourism, the country size and the interconnected parts of their economies.Additionally, benefits canbe increased if visitors extend their vacation due to the natural aspects of the destination, thus the so-called ‘add-on’ feature to visitors through ecotourism could be applied (Boo, 1990: 10).

In short, Boo claims that ecotourists are generally more accepting of conditions that are different from their home than other types of tourists (1990). Their characteristics often include living according to the local conditions, customs and food,with their activities ranging froma walk through the forest, to exploring and studying the natural attractionsof the destination(Boo, 1990: 1). Further, Boo’s definition can be seen to be situated in the active position towards the high responsibility pole (Orams, 1995a:4), highlighting the characteristicsof the destination, the natural settings and characteristics of the trip, and the motivations of the participants (Wall, 1994) (see Figure 1).

‘Ecotourism is a form of tourism inspired primarily by the natural history of an area, including its indigenous cultures. The ecotourist visits relatively undeveloped areas in the spirit of appreciation, participation and sensitivity. The ecotourist practices a non-consumptive use of wildlife and natural resources and contributes to the visited area through labor or financial means aimed at directly benefiting the conservation of the site and the economic well-being of the local residents…’ (Ziffer, 1989: 6) ‘Ecotourism is a nature tourism that contributes to conservation, through generating funds for protected areas, creating employment opportunities for local communities, and offering environmental education.’ (Boo, 1991b: 4)

‘Nature-based tourism that is focused on provision of learning opportunities while providing local and regional benefits, while demonstrating environmental, social, cultural, and economic sustainability’ (Forestry Tasmania, 1994: ii) ‘Ecologically sustainable tourism in natural areas that interprets local environment and cultures, furthers the tourists’ understanding of them, fosters conservation and adds to the well-being of the local people.’ (Richardson, 1993: 8) ‘Nature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable.

This definition recognizes that natural environment includes cultural components, and that ecologically sustainable involves an appropriate return to the local community and long-term conservation of the resource.’ (Australia Department of Tourism, 1994: 17) ‘Travel to remote or natural areas which aims to enhance understanding and appreciation of natural environment and cultural heritage, avoiding damage or deterioration of the “environment and the experience for others”.’ (Figgis, 1993: 8) ‘Travel to enjoy the world’s amazing diversity of natural life and human culture without causing damage to either.’ (Tickell, 1994: ix)

‘A responsible nature travel experience, that contributes to the conservation of the ecosystem while respecting the integrity of host communities and, where possible, ensuring that activities are complementary, or at least compatible, with existing resource- based uses present at the ecosystem.’ (Boyd & Butler, 1993: 13, 1996a: 386) ‘Ecotourism is a form of tourism which fosters environmental principles, with an emphasis on visiting and observing natural areas’. (Boyd & Butler, 1996b: 558) ‘Low impact nature tourism which contributes to the maintenance of species and habitats either directly through a contribution to conservation and/or indirectly by providing revenue to the local community sufficient for local people, and therefore protect, their wildlife heritage area as a source of income.’ (Goodwin, 1996: 288) ‘Ecotourism is tourism and recreation that is both nature-based and sustainable.’ (Lindberg & McKercher, 1997: 67)

‘Responsible travel that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people’. (Ecotourism Society in Orams, 1995a: 5)

 Forestry Tasmania mainly emphasised the ‘nature-based, educational, social and sustainability components of ecotourism’ by distinguishing between ecotourism and nature-based tourism. Here, ecotourism is a sub-component of the nature-based tourism which has been generally defined as a form of tourismwhich takes place in the natural environment (Forestry Tasmania, 1994). In addition, the definition is situated at the active stance of the high responsibility pole, mainly providing the characteristics of the destination (Orams, 1995a; Wall, 1994) (see Figure 1). · Richardson highlighted ‘the conservation, natural-based, sustainable and social and cultural components’, in that it is a small-based formof tourism involving people searching for conservational and educational activities (1993).

Richardon’s definition is predominantly situated in the active stance of the high responsibility pole combining mainly the characteristics of the destination (Orams, 1995a; Wall, 1994) (see Figure 1). · The Australia Department of Tourism suggested the ‘natural-based, ecological and cultural sustainability, education and interpretation, and provision of local and regional benefits’ (1994). In this case, the Australia Ecotourism Strategy claimed that ecotourism is a small subset of nature-based tourism, in that it operates in the natural settings. It could be seen to incorporate an active stance towards ecotourismmainly comparing the characteristics of the destination (Orams, 1995a;Wall, 1994) (see Figure 1).

The Concept of Ecotourism Essay