Gorilla tourism brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo. Click image for more gorilla photos. (Photo by R. Butler)
By Rhett Butler
| Last updated July 22, 2012
Ecotourism a leading way for developing countries to generate revenue by preserving their rainforests. Eco-tourists pay to see a country's natural beauty, not the destruction caused by short-run exploitation. Money spent directly in the local economy helps put a monetary value on forest preservation. Local people, along with the government, can see the importance of keeping the forest intact. And many tourists are willing to pay directly for preservation in the forms
of park entrance fees and donations.
Ecotourism can provide local people with economic assistance by offering employment opportunities as wildlife
guides, park rangers, and service workers in hotels, restaurants, and lodges. With eco-tourism, income is earned from preserving the ecosystem, and forest clearing
is discouraged because it is detrimental to income. Similarly, ecotourism can reduce the need for poaching and
hunting of forest animals for income. For example, in West Africa, former poachers are hired as park rangers since
they have intimate knowledge of local animal wildlife. Ecotourism also provides opportunities for education that might not otherwise be available, both directly in the form of training and indirectly through conservation funds contributed to local schools.
Ecotourism can also boost demand for local handicrafts.
Some hints for successful ecotourism in Madagascar
But while ecotourism is promising, tourism can have serious downsides. The risk is that as an ecotourism operation becomes successful, it may transition to mass-market nature-oriented tourism, which can be very damaging to the environment as well as local social conditions if not developed responsibly. A surge in tourist interest can drive hotel construction in sensitive areas; exacerbate conflict between operators, the local government, and communities; contribute to resource depletion (e.g. harvesting hardwoods for tourist handicrafts); and overwhelm a forest areas with a flood of visitors. Examples abound. Some parks in Costa Rica now have too many tourists, while poor oversight of orangutan tourism in parts of Indonesia has led to increased mortality among wild apes (orangutans can be infected by human diseases, which are transmitting when tourists offer food to the primates). Meanwhile an influx in relatively well-heeled foreigners can highlight wealth disparity and contribute to problems like prostitution.
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Thus to ensure sustainability, ecotourism requires careful evaluation and planning. Short-term tourism development can doom
forests as easily as unsustainable logging. Too many people, inadequate facilities, and poor park management can spell
the end for the "eco" in ecotourism. Eco-tourism, when carried out in a sustainable fashion, can be beneficial to local people, the economy, and the environment. It should not be restricted to legally protected areas, but should also be promoted in natural areas that lack protection. The presence of tourists, when properly managed, protects the area from over-exploitive activities.
- How can ecotourism help the environment?
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Lao ecotourism project wins responsible travel award for innovation
(11/11/2013) An ecotourism project in a remote part of Laos has won the prestigious World Responsible Tourism Award for Best for Responsible Wildlife Experience. The Nam Nern Night Safari, an ecotour in Lao PDR's Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Houaphan Province, was recognized by the World Travel Mart for its innovative approach to generating benefits for local communities.
Nature tours in Costa Rica: an economic alternative to palm oil?
(10/16/2013) Oil palm plantations have been rapidly expanding across the tropics for the better part of the past twenty years due to high returns from palm oil production. But palm oil isn't necessarily the most profitable form of land use in wildlife-rich areas, as one conservation entrepreneur is demonstrating in Costa Rica.David Lando Ramirez, a landowner in Sarapiqui, northeastern Costa Rica, has converted a small patch of oil palm into a thriving ecotourism business centered around people's love of the Central American nation's stunning diversity of birds.
Mammal-watching: one man's obsession to see the world's mammals
(10/16/2013) There are more than 5,000 different mammal species across the globe, but with this number being dwarfed by the 10,000 bird species, it is little wonder that bird-watching has become the most common wildlife watching hobby in the world. While there are thousands of websites dedicated to ornithology enthusiasts, with information detailing the best places to see particular species and how to find them, similar resources about mammals remain scarce.
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