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ENV 222_Ecotourism

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ENV 222_Ecotourism

  1. 1. Ecotourism: Conflict or Opportunity? ENV 222 By Mariah Mund
  2. 2. Ecotourism is becoming increasingly popular: it promises educational opportunities and sustainability while tourists vacation, but is ecotourism really as beneficial as it seems? In October 2015, the Daily Mail published an article that questioned the ecological benefits of ecotourism. More specifically, it reported findings made by Daniel Blumstein, a professor in the USA. He asserts that ecotourism could dramatically change the makeup of ecosystems – causing changes that we cannot predict. One potential change he hypothesizes is that small animals will habituate to predators because of increased exposure to humans. If habituation occurs for humans, Blumstein believes that these small animals could habituate to actual predators, and face a higher risk of being killed by animals they previously managed to avoid. If his hypothesis is true, it means that ecotourism is flawed. It means that an idea that is meant to help the environment, can help to destroy it. The lack of research into ecotourism and the uncertainty involved in ecosystems has created a platform for controversy. Many believe ecotourism does not benefit Earth, while others support the idea that ecotourism benefits are vast. As the name implies, ecotourism is an attempt to become more environmentally friendly. This means that ecotourism companies need to reduce depletion rates and overexploitation of natural resources (Donnelly et al., 2011). From my own experience, eco tourist destinations pride themselves on displaying pristine natural environments and an abundance of wildlife. This trend towards ecological exposure could create a cultural shift from overuse, ignorance, and luxury towards sustainable awareness. Another goal of ecotourism is to educate tourists on the natural world surrounding them. Educational opportunities are common in Costa Rica. Hotels often provide access to educational nature walks and animal sanctuaries. Furthermore, ecotourism educates guests on how to be
  3. 3. sustainable in their own life. In Costa Rica, ecotourism hotels promote good environmental behaviors: leaving the air conditioner off, reusing your towel, etc. These types of practices could potentially result in lifelong attitudes changes for guests. While ecotourism attempts to change the behaviors of tourists, it is also influential at driving economic stability. Wunder (2000) explains that ecotourism helps diversify local economies to become less reliant on staple goods, while creating new employment opportunities. For many nations tourism is a vital industry that supports their economy which is why tourism is inevitable. Fortunately, with ecotourism nations experience the economic benefits of tourism while also supporting the ability of the environment to survive and flourish. Supporters find that the ecotourism industry benefits local communities in other ways. Stronza and Gordillo (2008) report that ecotourism leads to increased sustainability for local communities. They found locals chose to work for the eco tourist industry instead of unsustainable industries like mining or forestry. Furthermore, locals who recognize that a beautiful environment will result in more tourists and money become more sustainable in their personal lives to ensure that the natural environment remains unblemished (Stronza & Gordillo, 2008). Many communities also experience improvement to their social structures. Because international visitors expect safe health care and modern transportation, the ecotourism industry develops these structures within communities – and the locals are able to access them (Stronza & Gordillo, 2008). Educational opportunities increase because of job training and globalization (Stronza & Gordillo, 2008). Stronza and Gordillo claim that increased globalization teaches women living in male dominated societies that subordination is not the norm anymore.
  4. 4. If all these benefits exist, why is there continuing debate on the benefits of ecotourism? One major concern is the economics of ecotourism. In many instances, the ecotourism industry is owned and controlled by external companies (Wunder, 2000). The relationships formed between the owners and the local communities are not based on mutual respect or long-term collaboration; instead, the native people often agree to stay away from the eco tourist areas in exchange for financial compensation and resources (Wunder, 2000). This system, in which external forces have the power, usually guarantees that local communities are kept out of the decision making process and see very little economic benefit from ecotourism (Wunder, 2000). For some local peoples, the involuntary change in their way of life has become an increasing concern (Stronza & Gordillo, 2008). Stronza and Gordillo explain that an introduction of external companies results in a shift towards a money-based culture. This shift means that communities value jobs and money over traditional cultural activities. Stronza and Gordillo also found that local communities often fall prey to the boom bust cycles that are associated with tourism. These cycles result in family separation as parents are forced to leave home in search of work. Another issue regarding ecotourism is how fast it has become popular. This popularity means that the tourist industry must adapt to consumer demand quickly. Unfortunately, to remain popular, many hotels and travel companies claim they practice ecotourism, but they do not (Wunder, 2000). These companies are able to operate under the ecotourism title because the definition of ecotourism is vague, and most governments have limited power and resources to monitor the tourist industry (Wunder, 2000). Because of these false claims, many tourists who want to be environmentally friendly choose the wrong company, hotel, or destination.
  5. 5. Finally critics have found that ecotourism has been ineffective at shifting the behaviors of tourists. Tourists have a certain psychological mindset the moment they leave their house with luggage in tow (Sharpley, 2006). Sharpley explains that tourists often let their good habits fall away: they spend more money, they eat more food, and most importantly, they practice unsustainable behaviors. Sharpley found that tourists splurge excessively while on vacation, and ecotourism does not prohibit these actions. After examining this controversy, one might conclude that the division between sides cannot be reconciled. But I believe reconciliation is possible. Firstly, it could be the case that examples of poor ecotourism implementation have come from the companies claiming to be ecofriendly, but are not. Secondly, Donnelly et al. (2011) explain that ecotourism is, as of right now, ill-defined and under researched. If this is the case, maybe the controversy stems from lack of knowledge, rather than fundamental flaws in ecotourism. Finally, it is important to note that both sides have the same goals. They want a tourism industry that protects the environment, enhances the lives of tourists and local communities, and strengthens the local economy. Because they have the same goal, a resolution could be possible if they all sit together and create a plan and system in which everyone benefits. References
  6. 6. Bell, S. & Hindmoor, A. (2011). Governance without government? The case of the Forest Stewardship Council. Public Administration, 90(1), 144-159. doi: 10.1111/j.1467- 9299.2011.01954.x Forest Stewardship Council. (n.d.). History. retrieved from us/history Houle, D., Lachapelle, E., & Mark Purdon, E. (2015). Comparative politics of sub-federal cap- and-trade: Implementing the Western Climate Initiative. Global Environmental Politics, 15(3), 49-73. doi: 10.1162/GLEP_a_00311 Mitchell, B. (2015). Resource and environmental management in Canada (5th ed.). Ontario: Oxford University Press. O’Connor, D. (2008). Governing the global commons: Linking carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation in tropical forests. Global Environmental Change, 18(3), 368–374. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.07.012 Pinkerton, E. (1996). The contribution of watershed-based multi-party co-management agreements to dispute resolution: the Skeena Watershed Committee. Environments, 23(2), 51-68. Retrieved from Roopnarine, P. (2013). Ecology and the Tragedy of the Commons. Sustainability, 5(2), 749-773. doi: 10.3390/su5020749 Schepers, D. H. (2009). Challenges to legitimacy at the Forest Stewardship Council. Journal of Business Ethics, 92(2), 279-290. doi:10.1007/s10551-009-0154-5 Victor, D. G. (2008). Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the struggle to slow global warming. NJ: Princeton University Press Warren, D. P., & Tomashefsky, S. (2009). The Western Climate Initiative. State & Local Government Review, 41(1), 55-60. doi: 10.1177/0160323X0904100107 Wilson, J. (1998). Talk and log: Wilderness politics in British Columbia, 1965-96. BC: UBC Press Wright, M. (2010). Aboriginal gillnet fishers, science, and the state: Salmon fisheries management on the Nass and Skeena Rivers, British Columbia, 1951-1961. Journal of Canadian Studies, 44(1), 5-35. retrieved from Studies.html