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A dikdik, one of the smallest and most graceful antelopes.

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 facilities

  • 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

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