Ecotourism

Two of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry are ecotourism and ethnic tourism. Ethnic tour packages cater to customers seeking encounters with authenticity in the form of native peoples, cultures, and arts. Some travel in groups to local villages, while others attend showcases, official performances, and other arranged events. Ecological tourism or eco-tourism, which depends on the universal appeal of the wonders of nature, is potentially a more lucrative sector than ethnic tourism. Both ecotourism and ethnic tourism share a basic mindset: combining access with preservation.

Generally upscale consumers in search of nature and wildlife constitute a tempting market for packagers, agencies, and government managers of national parks, bird sanctuaries, game parks, and biosphere reserves. Demand is particularly high in the tropics and in bio diversity hot spots like the Central American rain forests. The business practices of ecotourism reflect its customers' concern with bioethics while inevitably making inroads of its own into fragile ecosystems with (at a minimum) vehicles, food and water consumption, and problems of waste disposal. Costa Rica, Belize, and Venezuela are among the states that have implemented successful ecotourism programs to date, offering limited access to sites while promoting preservation and sustainable development of the wilderness.

Some of the world's most spectacular megadiversity sites are among its most endangered, places where a wealth of species have evolved without defenses against man or other predators. In the isolated ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin's observations of rare endemic species, trained guides escort visitors on low-impact nature tours. Although the flightless dodo went extinct in Mauritius soon after human colonization, birds without fear of humans can still be seen up close in remote ocean archipelagoes like the Galapagos and Seychelles. Human access to their nesting grounds must be strictly controlled, as the inadvertent importation of even the smallest predatory animal into their sanctuaries could spell rapid extinction for these rare oceanic bird species.

Big-game safaris and trophy hunting are major businesses in eastern and southern Africa. Game parks, wildlife reservations, and nature preserves attract substantial foreign currency. Africans are building more lodges and modern guest facilities, in a delicate balancing act between preservation and overuse of land and water. The endangered large mammals of Africa are at the mercy of governments, local needs, tourists, and the travel industry. Collaboration and cooperative planning among the various stakeholders need to support set-asides of land and water, conservation activi ties, research by wildlife biologists, and captive breeding programs. An especially important factor is the training of local people as rangers and guides, to prevent poaching as well as to provide economic alternatives to the environmentally damaging encroachment of subsistence activities onto protected lands.

In South Africa there is increasing local involvement in big-game safaris and expanding economic development in parks and wildlife habitat preserves. Game parks and nature reserves are popular destinations for tourists, and ecotourism is the most rapidly expanding tourism category in South Africa. Tourism now accounts for an estimated 5 to 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product and employs more than 500,000 workers. More than 2.5 million foreign visitors are expected per year, nearly twice the number of guests a decade ago. One of the major tourist areas, Kruger National Park, reports more than 1 million bed-nights occupied annually. Visitors based in bush lodges or beach houses snorkel and scuba, hike and climb, fish and hunt game, take photographs of animals, watch whales and birds, and travel in jeeps, boats, and all-terrain vehicles.

More than 5 percent of the land in South Africa is held in public preserves, and most of the country's biodiversity is represented within the boundaries of those protected zones. However, the protected areas are disproportionately savanna zones, while other ecosystems are more seriously threatened. Nature tours, attracting millions of visitors annually, have become the leading use of endangered resources. In the past, safaris and big-game hunting were for the privileged few who represented the country's elite and their First World international clientele. Changes in official and popular notions of who the stakeholders are in postapartheid South African wildlife conservation have led to rural devel opment initiatives. Local communities are becoming more active in joint management and conservation of lands and resources with park and reserve authorities. The South African state has recently come to regard the traditional knowledge of indigenous caretakers itself as a valuable resource for ethnic and ecological tourism, and a legitimate preservation priority in its function as a potential magnet for the travel sector's continued growth.

Even an ethos proclaiming "Take only pictures, leave only footprints" has inherent limits, as thousands of footprints have a cumulative impact on the fragile ecosystems of rain forests, deserts, volcanic deposits, montane peaks, hidden valleys, and scrublands. In heavily trafficked destinations like Yellowstone National Park or the Hawaiian Islands, the question of how many footprints are too many is reaching a critical juncture. Land and marine preserves presently generate and depend upon the financial support of tourist dollars in a delicate balancing act between commercial exploitation, indigenous stewardship, preservation, and despoliation of scarce or nonre-newable natural resources. The linkage of endangered species conservation with the travel industry, governmental support, and public promotion of wildlife conservation activities is crucial. Plans for developing infrastructure, transportation, and lodgings must include the training of local people as paid caretakers, and the provision of incentives to prevent poaching. If this is not done, the imperatives of survival for expanding populations on a shrinking resource base will render the administrative protection of arable lands and endangered animals moot.

Kenya provides a model of development, with its well-established scientific research community working closely with the managers of game parks and the tourism bureau.

But many other potential tourist destinations lack the spectacular big game animals found in Kenya, as well as financial and institutional resources, political influence, roads and facilities for transportation, and accommodations. Eldredge, writing of the Okavango Delta, observes that ecotourism can be both an economic savior and an ecological destroyer for small communities: "With tourists come speed boats, airplanes, helicopters, four-wheel drive vehicles—not to mention water usage, disposal of human and solid wastes, clearings for buildings and airstrips, and so on." Although the indigenous San people were an integral part of the local Kalahari ecosystem, he points out that "ecotourists are not . . . no postagricul-tural, let alone postindustrial, people are part of any local ecosystem whatsoever, not even the systems in which each of us lives" (Eldredge, 1998). No matter how passive, respectful, light of foot, and environmentally aware outside visitors may be, they will inevitably affect a system simply by their presence. Finding a sustainable balance between preservation and access is one of the greatest challenges facing the tourism industry in the twenty-first century.

See also: Beauty of Nature, Biophilia and Ethics; Coral Reefs; Cultural Survival, Revival, and Preservation; Erosion; Extinction, Direct Causes of; Indigenous Conservation; Organizations in Biodiversity, The Role of; Sustainable Development; Valuing Biodiversity

Bibliography

Edington, John M. 1986. Ecology, Recreation, and Tourism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Eldredge, Niles. 1998. Life in the Balance: Humanity and the Biodiversity Crisis. Princeton: Princeton University Press;Fennell, David A. 1999. Ecotourism: An Introduction. London: Routledge; Graburn, Nelson. 1976. Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World. Berkeley: University of California Press; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. 1998. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press; MacCannell, Dean. 1992. Empty Meeting Grounds: The Tourist

Papers. London: Routledge; McCool, Stephen F., and R. Neil Moisey, eds. 2001. Tourism, Recreation, and Sustainability: Linking Culture and the Environment. Wallingford, U.K.: CABI; Sattaur, Omar. 1996. Nepal: New Horizons? Oxford: Oxfam; World Tourism Organization and World Meteorological Organization. 1996. Handbook on Natural Disaster Reduction in Tourist Areas. Madrid: World Tourism Organization.

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