WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED ECOTOURISM?
Ecotourism is a relatively new word. It was first used in Central
America, defined as: "Environmentally responsible travel and visitation to
relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature
(and any accompanying cultural features-both past and present) that promotes conservation,
has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic
involvement of local populations." Hector Ceballos-Lascurain (1983).
In 1991, the US based Ecotourism Society (now The International
Ecotourism Society) defined it as "Responsible travel to natural areas that
conserves the environment and sustains the well being of local people."
Both these definitions include the elements of environmental conservation,
community development and responsible travel to/from the destination, a concept
that forces us to consider modes of transport. Interestingly, no mention is made
in either definition of sustainability. It is becoming increasingly accepted that
the tourism experience should be sustainable.
Why should we even consider ecotourism, you might ask? Currently,
ecotourism is considered the fastest growing sector of the tourism market in the
world. The International Ecotourism Society (1995) identified the trends leading
to the fast growth to be:
- Increase in the overall travel market
- Growth in popularity of vacation to natural areas
- Dissatisfaction with simplistic travel packages offered by travel firms and
- Urgent need to generate funding and human resources for management of protected
areas in ways that meet the needs of local rural populations
- Recognition of the importance of tourism within the field of sustainable development
So, not only is ecotourism a potentially positive force in Kenya, it is also
something that people WANT to do! Judging by the press coverage alone, consumers
are increasingly interested in ecotourism products.
Conde Naste Traveler, one of the most respected travel magazines in the US
and UK, has an annual ecotourism award issue, in which it dedicates up to three
pages on ecotourism tour operators, destinations and hotels / resorts. For the
past six years they have featured unique ecotourism activities all over the world.
Most recently their Tour Operator award went to Rain Forest Expeditions for a
joint venture between the local community in Peru and the tour operator, which
has resulted in a 24-room ecolodge, the Posada Amazonas. The community keeps 60%
of the profits, has 50% of decision-making authority, and participates in lodge
management, marketing and itinerary development.
British Airways, under the Banner "Tourism for Tomorrow" provides free publicity
and promotion to top winning facilities. Last year, the award was given to the
Chumbe Island Coral Lodge in Tanzania, where the local people and the Lodge operators
have teamed up to help protect a unique marine environment. As a result the Tanzania
government recently gazetted the marine area to create a marine reserve!
Finally, the year 2002 has been declared the "International Year of Ecotourism";
we can be assured this will generate positive publicity. While this looks excellent
for Kenya, we need to realize it is an intensely competitive market, and is becoming
more so every day. There are problems associated with ecotourism development,
which I will address in a future article. It is important to keep in mind, however,
the positive attributes of the ecotourism industry, and its potential as a tool
to resolving some of the issues faced in rural and poor areas.
Copyright Neel Inamdar of Eco-resorts