Topas Ecolodge in Vietnam. Courtesy of David McKelvey/ Flickr Creative Commons
Ecotourism is a phenomenon that has grown substantially in the last thirty years. It has reached countries all around the world from Central and South America to Asia. And with its growth has come a growing interest in whether or not ecotourism is as successful as it is thought to be.
Ecotourism grew from being just about protection of the environment to include protection of the local communities. But there has been the potential of actually doing more harm than good in that sense. A case study by Mike Stone and Geoffrey Wall was done on ecotourism in Hainan, China, where a park intended for conservation was built. According to their study, “at least one quarter of residents surveyed indicated that the park has had no effect or only negative effects (mainly in terms of lost jobs and land) on their lives.” The residents tend to be the ones that suffer when ecotourism becomes more prominent in the community, even if it is intended to help them. Continue reading
Just as with any industry, positive and negative aspects are created. Ecotourism is no exception to this rule. And while ecotourism presents many benefits, including those for the environment and the local economy, ecotourism can also have a negative impact on a community.
An example of this is the prospective new international airport that is going to be built in Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula. The Osa is home to one of the most concentrated amounts of biodiversity, with 2.5 percent of the world’s biodiversity “in less than a thousandth of a percent of its total surface area,” according to Osa Conservation.
This new airport has the potential to open the doors of the Osa Peninsula to an outpour of travelers. Rather than people flying to San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica, and then taking a small plane to their destinations, travelers will have the ability to fly directly to the Osa where hotels and resorts can pick up guests and take them directly to their getaways. Continue reading
Travelers take cruises to exotic places where they don’t necessarily get an authentic experience. Photo courtesy of Colin Delaney/ Flickr Creative Commons
With the arrival of spring comes the exodus of college students from their stressful, dreary campuses to the soft, sandy beaches of the tropics. Most travel to places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic where they can lounge in the sun and forget about their schoolwork. However, though they are traveling to exotic places with interesting cultures, they are not necessarily authentically interacting with the people they meet and the places they see.
A group of students from Barnard College in Manhattan went on a cruise for their spring break which stopped in Mexico and Jamaica. After their trip, they found their experiences to be very inauthentic. Emily Kawai, a senior at Barnard, said that while in Jamaica, her tour guide and the locals “hyped up the stereotypes for the tourists.” She observed that many people were wearing the Rastafarian colors and saying quotes from Bob Marley. “They wanted to give the tourists what they expected,” she says. Gaby Ittah, also a senior at Barnard, agreed with Emily, saying that “the ports milk the tourism industry.”
Ecotourism, on the other hand, strives to create a cohesive travel experience that includes the community in an authentic way. Ecotourism encourages sustainable tourism and as a result, businesses involved in ecotourism put a lot of emphasis on community building and outreach within the communities that they are operating.
Monkeys in the Amazon Courtesy of Angelo DeSantis/ Flickr Creative Commons
From the dense, green rainforests of Costa Rica, to the humid, lively Amazon of South America, to the hot deserts of Kenya, to the colorful, warm Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. These natural beauties have been sites to see for generations. People travel thousands of miles to see these natural wonders of the world. And it is these sorts of natural marvels that gave rise to the movement the world now knows as ecotourism.
Ecotourism is not a new concept. For decades, people have traveled around the world looking at the beauties that this planet has to offer. John Muir, for example, ventured into the Sierra Nevada mountain range and fell in love with it so much that he put it on himself to protect the land that would later become Yosemite National Park. Though the term wasn’t coined yet, Muir’s trip into Yosemite Valley is a form of ecotourism.
Photo courtesy of Chris M Morris/ Flickr Commons
View of the Pacific Ocean in Quepos, Costa Rica
Sitting on the cliffs of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, next to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, is a small eco-lodge called Lapa Rios where visitors from around the world can escape from the modern world and find nature again. Nestled on 1000 acres of rainforest, this lodge offers 50 guests an opportunity to not only have fun, but to also lessen their impact on the fragile ecosystem of the rainforest while supporting the local economy. The experience is the epitome of the burgeoning field of ecotourism.
Ecotourism is a growing trend around the world. According to the International Ecotourism Society, the brand of travel has grown 20 percent to 34 percent each year since 1990. Ecotourism is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the practice of traveling to beautiful natural places for pleasure in a way that does not damage the environment there.” And yet it has become so much bigger than just the environment. In order to participate in true ecotourism, lodges must take into account how they are affecting the local community. Ecotourism is about being local. Continue reading