Ecotourism refers to a form of sustainable tourism within a natural and cultural heritage area where community participation, protection and management of natural resources, culture and indigenous knowledge and practices, environmental education and ethics as well as economic benefits are fostered and pursued for the enrichment of host communities and satisfaction of visitors.
Ecotourism is a concept that provides a “win-win” situation especially in protected areas and natural destinations that may be sensitive to human impacts. Over the years there has been much confusion over the concept that several places are being promoted for ecotourism despite that fact that they are not practicing or demonstrating sustainable principles. Understanding these principles is part of the responsibility of proponents who wish to engage in ecotourism related projects.
Principles of ecotourism?
1. Conservation of natural ecosystems, biodiversity and culture; 2. Community participation in the growth of the local tourism industry; 3. Inclusive growth that involves, women, children, indigenous peoples, informal sector; 4. Increased awareness on environmental conservation and responsible travel; 5. Balanced development by taking into consideration economic, environmental and social goals.
What is inclusive growth?
For ecotourism to work, the community needs to establish goals that promote the conservation of the natural environment, economic prosperity for the majority of stakeholders and community development. Wealth generation is a major goal of all livelihood projects including ecotourism. The dynamics of development however, often results to inequality, wherein the rich tend to become richer and the poor tend to become poorer. This happens when market forces are allowed to control development and there are no conscious effort to establish safety nets. The latter come in the form of community organizing, capacity building, networking, sustainable livelihood projects, market linkages, sustainable financing and other schemes that will make sure that the marginalized sector of society also have a chance to be part of development.
The Chain of Prosperity
Tourism is often associated with serious and irreversible social problems such as drug trafficking, prostitution, child abuse, theft and other crimes. Criminality in tourism areas is an indicator of two things: presence of migrants who were attracted to the site due to the presence of tourists who are often the focus of these crimes, and/or desperation on the part of the poor residing in the area who are pushed to steal, sell drugs, go int prostitution because they feel that they have no other option. It goes without saying that even locals become victims, especially when it comes to abuse of women and children. The root cause is the lack of conscious effort on the part of government to capacitate the poorest of the poor on skills that will allow them to get jobs related to the industry. Marginalised sectors such as farmers, fisher folks, and housewives end up being poorer since their income remains the same amidst price increase of basic commodities brought about by tourism development. When people end up poorer they become desperate and are pushed to engage in illegal activities or are victimised by syndicates. The Chain of Prosperity is a value chain approach to tourism development that addresses the needs of marginalised members of the community in terms of training, seed money for capitalisation, networking and linkages, product development and marketing. Entrepreneurship is the the battle cry of this framework since it promotes the mobilisation and active involvement of community members in the growth of tourism. Community-based tourism provides economic incentives for residents of poor rural communities to strengthen the protection of the natural assets which are the capital of ecotourism development. Enterprise development is the basic strategy towards empowering community members to earn supplemental income from the tourist traffic through the sale of life enhancing and compelling experiences. (this framework is copyrighted by Chen Reyes-Mencias)
What is an ecotourism product?
An ecotourism product is an experience intentionally put together for the satisfaction and enjoyment of visitors. It is composed of both tangible and intangible elements found on site which collectively contribute to the quality and value of the experience. An attraction alone is not a tourism product that can already be sold. It is a base product which needs other elements in order for it to be marketable to a specific market segment. Marketing a base product will most likely lead to destruction, and consequently to a reduction in its value.
Being an experience the tourism product is perceived by the five senses - sight, feeling, taste, hearing and smell. In addition, the experience is also processed and remembered by the brain, retained, appreciated and felt by the heart.
What is ecotourism enterprise development?
An important component in any ecotourism project is the development of micro enterprises that supports the local tourism industry. In order for communities to have an active role in ecoturism, they should have the capacity to provide various services to visitors. They can be trained as guides, caterers, producers of souvenirs or camp mangers. Training/capacity building and the implementation and core standards are important in order to ensure that products are viable and marketable. Exploring income streams for communities is one of the key towards increased economic benefit and the inclusion of several members including women, out of school youth, fisher folks, farmers and local craftsmen.
Three major enterprises provide economic incentive for communities to be actively involved in the management of coral reefs, forest and river with mangroves. Forest Adventure provides trekking and hiking experiences with interpretations to visitors. Reef Discovery is designed to introduce people to the marine environment through snorkeling. River expedition is a riverine paddling experience within mangrove areas.
Even local healing practices can be an excellent base product of the Island Spa concept that highlights "hilot" and healing massages and use of local herbs for special tea preparations. Nature Village is a campsite development concept designed to encourage visitors to stay longer with the community by camping in designated camp sites. Culinary is a catering enterprise that promotes sustainable practices in meal preparation and kitchen management. Arts and Craft is a sustainable souvenir development program that capitalises on abundant indigenous materials.
What is volunteer tourism?
A tourism concept that aims to achieve economic goals while promoting community development. It provides opportunities for visitors to participate in community activities such as repairing houses, transplanting mangroves, rehabilitating a forest, constructing a school house, building a visitor information center or simply teaching people skills. While volunteerism is not your usual holiday it provides an individual a chance to “feel good” by extending himself/herself for the benefit of the environment and the community. It is travel with a “bayanihan” spirit. Ecotourism Philippines Spirit of Batanes is an example of a product that integrates volunteerism.