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General Background on the Nature of Ecotourism

The term “ecotourism” was first introduced in the 1960s. According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES 2015). Ecotourism has been widely proclaimed as an economically viable and environmentally sustainable alternative to mass tourism because, according to proponents, (a) it has minimal negative impacts on nature and culture, at worst; (b) it facilitates conservation and biodiversity; (c) it carries and spreads environmental and cultural awareness; (d) it generates revenues for service providers and local investors; and (e) it enhances the socio-economic well-being of the local community.

If the above statements were true, there would be no need for the following principles of ecotourism listed by the TIES in 2015 that include (a) minimizing physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts, (b) recognizing rights and spiritual beliefs of local people, (c) building environmental and cultural awareness and respect, (d) providing financial benefits for conservation and local community,

  • (e) delivering memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to the host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates; and
  • (f) working in partnership with them to create empowerment.

There are mounting examples of sustainable practices in particularly large enterprises. They do so, it creates a better image for the business, reduces costs, improves efficiencies, manages risks, meets emerging legal and regulatory requirements, and engages staff in corporate social responsibility. This serves as (a) a key driver of employee satisfaction, (b) means of competitive advantage by offering differentiating experiences to customers, (c) instrument in meeting emerging consumer trends, and (d) sustainer of company by protecting the environment on which it depends (CREST 2015).

As ecotourism continues to witness expansion, it has also turned into highly influential and complex sets of activities. New concepts and features are added to its definitions such as responsibility, environmentally friendly destination management, and sustainable development of local populations (Torquebiau and Taylor 2009). It is presented as a preferable form of tourism and asserted that it contributes to local and regional economic development, benefits and empowers local communities, provides environmental conservation and scientific research, protects wildlife, endangered species, and fragile ecosystems, educates and creates widespread environmental awareness among people, tourists, and tourism industry, and fosters world peace (Kelkit et al. 2009; Hsu and Lin 2013; Honey 2008). It is given importance by many developing countries hoping to improve their economies in an environmentally sustainable manner (Coria and Calfucura 2012; Libosada 2009). Concurrently, multitudes of activities have emerged in order to generate market expansion and increase tourist demand for ecotourism. Tour operators, tourism agencies, and related food and beverage, transportation, travel, and accommodation sectors have included rural and natural areas in their field of activities. Tourism investors have expanded their ventures beyond the seashores and moved to rural areas and inside the wilderness, protected areas and national parks. In the meantime, the need for and activities of demand creation and expansion for ecotourism have increased tremendously. Governments, bureaucrats, academicians, and business people in developing countries have started considering ecotourism as an engine of growth and a source of foreign exchange and employment to revive national and local economy (Anup et al. 2015). Precious resources have been diverted to the provision of airports, local transport, infrastructure, and hotels with a view to creating a niche of their own in the international ecotourism market. Natural forests have been encroached by expanding tourism activities. Old houses and attractive physical environments in rural areas, as well as historical neighborhoods in cities have been restored. People in some places have been removed from their lands and houses, and investors who have close (mostly financial) relations with high-ranking officials in governing bodies have moved in, and eye-catching environments have been created in the name of historical, cultural, or natural authenticity in order to attract domestic and international tourists. As a result of increased interest, ecotourism has become one of the fast-growing businesses throughout the world: The UNWTO in 2012 predicted that ecotourism, nature, heritage, cultural, and “soft adventure” tourism will grow rapidly over the next two decades and global spending on ecotourism is expected to increase at a higher rate than the tourism industry as a whole (CREST 2015).

Meanwhile, professional activities have also prompted serious debates in every aspect of ecotourism. According to TIES, “the term ecotourism is widely recognized and used, but it is also abused, as it is not sufficiently anchored to the definition. The ecotourism community, therefore, continues to face significant challenges in awareness building and education and actively working against green-washing within the tourism industry.. More governments have developed ecotourism strategies, but not all have been well integrated into mainstream tourism and environmental policies, or supported by action” (TIES 2007). Some critics state that ecotourism is simply a permutation within a neoliberal conservation agenda (Fletcher 2012; Igoe and Brockington 2007). In his study, Fletcher (2012) put forward that ecotourism cannot help but exacerbate the very inequalities it purports to address. In ecotourism, every cultural value and natural entity turn into commodity and local people become cheap labor in the process of ecotourism activities (West et al. 2006). It is an integrated part of global economic restructuring that is designed to facilitate and expand the tourism industry and its allied industries beyond the confines of time (seasonal activity) and space (travel to seashores) (Erdogan 2003; Horton 2009; Hunt and Stronza 2011; Kiss 2004).

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