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Academic Interest in and Studies on Ecotourism

Another group of stakeholders includes the academics that engage in teaching, training, and research in ecotourism. Their views of ecotourism vary according to their theoretical framework, personal biases, and personal interests. We can group academicians under three broad categories: The first one is called “mainstream scholars.” They constitute the great majority in Turkey and elsewhere who consider ecotourism as a means of economic development, conservation and enhancement of environment and biodiversity, and who generally provide theoretical, promotional, normative, and mystified explanations about the nature and benefits of ecotourism.

The second one involves those who come up with alternative explanations. This group is rarely found in Turkish academia. They consider ecotourism as an economic expansion of tourism and its allied industries beyond mere beaches in order to utilize natural and local areas for financial gains via forging and promoting new forms of tourisms that include ecotourism.

The last one fall in between the first two and provides various levels of support or criticism by, for instance, dividing ecotourism organizations and activities as “true ecotourism or not” (e.g., Datta and Banerji 2015).

According to the mainstream scholars in Turkey and other countries, the business enterprises involved in ecotourism support environmental conservation by generating revenues that can be used for the sustainable management of local regions, national parks, protected areas, and historical sites and contribute to the national and local economic development by providing employment and income (Jalani 2012; Shah 2007; Surendran and Sekhar 2011). Improvement of local livelihoods through ecotourism has been widely promoted as an important policy instrument for biodiversity conservation (Lai and Nepal 2006; Scheyvens 2007). It has been praised for its contribution to the goals of poverty eradication and conservation of natural resources (e.g., Surendran and Sekhar 2011) and is put forward as an alternative to the exploitative use of environmental resources (e.g., Nyuapane and Poudel 2011). It is asserted that “ecotourism creates significant opportunities for the conservation, protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and of natural areas by encouraging local and indigenous communities in host countries and tourists alike to preserve and respect the natural and cultural heritage” (World Tourism Organization 2013). It empowers local communities, fosters respect for different cultures, and promotes indirect incentives such as improved infrastructures, health facilities, awareness, and education from tourism development (Nyuapane and Poudel 2011).

In Turkey, mainstream explanations and studies are abundant. They are mostly based on quantitative quasi-experimental (survey) designs and a high majority of them are methodologically invalid (Erdogan 2001). They are typically concerned with providing descriptive explanations about the roles of ecotourism and effective ecotourism management, as if investors or employees of tourism industries are genuinely interested in determining the ecotourism potentials of local communities, mountainous villages, pristine natural environments, beautiful pastoral lands, creeks, rivers, lakes, and historical places for the sake of general public.

In Turkey, meaningful critical or humane assessment of policies, ecotourism establishments, services, and related industries are almost nonexistent. It is very rare to see any significant debate among academics, planners, and decision makers about ecotourism beyond mere lip service. Instead, they portray ecotourism, facilities, services and practices as playing the role of preserving the local heritage and culture, serving local community, interpreting social, cultural, and historical values, providing information, knowledge, and education, and building sensitivity, awareness, admiration, appreciation, and respect to local life and culture. As a matter of fact such portrayal is not true.

On the other hand, some researchers acknowledge the undesirable outcomes of ecotourism and focus on the idea that financial gains have not equally spread to all areas of local community and that development and related activities have lacked efficient long-term planning necessary for sustainable ecotourism. Hence, they suggest responsible practices and necessary corrective measures to overcome the unwanted results of ecotourism activities (e.g., Datta and Baneiji 2015).

Yet, others have come up with alternative theoretical and methodological approaches and question the practices and assumptions about the nature and benefits of ecotourism (e.g., Afenyo and Amuquandoh 2014; Erdogan and Erdogan 2012; Duffy 2002; Tribe 2003; Cater 2006; Burns and Novelli 2008; Bianchi 2009; Fletcher 2011). They provide explanations that include (a) economic replacement and destruction of historical economic development of local areas by (eco)tourism industries, (b) creation of unemployment, seasonal employment, under-paid work force and, thus, local poverty instead of local wealth, (c) increasing destruction of the traditional way of economic production, thus, contributing to the impoverishment of the greater majority, (d) empowering only a few wealthy locals who reap economic benefits as owners and partners of (eco)tourism facilities and services, (e) compulsory due to tourism activities, (f) migration to large cities because of marginalization and, then, elimination of means of producing material life, (g) highly disproportional local, national, and international distribution of profits, and (h) failure of ecotourism to reduce various local dependencies in a positive way. This group of scholars focuses on the problems in ecotourism that include (1) revenue leakages, (2) labor policy of employing skilled labor from the urban sector and unskilled labor from the locals, (3) inequitable distribution of income, (4) compulsory displacement, (5) large scale loss of land, (6) unemployment, homelessness, prostitution, violence, and destruction of local culture, (7) gradual or fast loss of traditional mode of life, (8) increase in hopelessness, morbidity, alienation, and (9) damages to flora and fauna. According to them, the promotion of local livelihoods, ecological sustainment, and biodiversity through ecotourism have been cunningly forged, prepared and disseminated factoids worldwide that promote the interests of tourism, allied industries, and sustainability; in short, ecotourism refers to the expansion of the sustainability of industrial structures.

Unfortunately, in Turkey, it is quite rare to come across any explanation and research design that provide a critical/alternative mode of inquiry on ecotourism to address the issues mentioned here and focus on the national and international political, economic, and cultural power relations and vested interests. In fact, it is difficult to find ecotourism study in Turkey that have come up with hypotheses or conclusions indicating that ecotourism has compromised the cause of biodiversity conservation, historical culture, development, and way of life in local communities. Very few researchers in Turkey approach ecotourism as an expansion of tourism industries to rural areas and as a form of capital that is disguised as sustainable nature-based tourism that promotes conservation of biodiversity, ecological, cultural, historical, local, and scenic values.

Mainstream solutions to environmental problems are entirely different from the solutions provided by alternative approaches. Basically, the former deals with mechanical solutions to the symptoms and end products of the ecotourism processes and practices; whereas the latter focuses on the substantial changes or revisions in the industrial structures and practices that cause social, economic, cultural, and environmental problems.

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