The Scope of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is the sector of the international tourism industry that has shown the fastest growth since the mid-1990s. The value of this sector to the economy of a developing country like Ecuador is significant, but difficult to measure with any precision. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, 83 per cent of US tourists are prepared to spend more with environmentally responsible companies (Szuchman, 2001). Tour operators in South America are only too ready to add the eco-label to their products to attract tourists concerned about environmental issues, but in practice few hotels meet recognized eco-certification standards. There is no generally accepted definition of ecotourism, but it is more than just naturebased travel, and most destinations are far from being uninhabited wilderness.
Wherever there are local communities, the indigenous people should gain longterm economic benefits from such tourism rather than being excluded, as has too often been the case in the national parks and game reserves of Africa, for example. Ecotourism should accept the resource as it is, with the understanding that this may limit the number of visits over a given period, and promote ethical responsibilities and behaviour in the actions of all those involved. If we apply ecotourism to Leiper´s model of a tourism system, the touristgenerating area – for example, the UK – has a deficit of wildlife resources and accounts for much of the demand, whereas Ecuador has an abundant supply, including many unique species of plants and animals. In the generating area the ecotourist will be motivated by attitudes of ‘responsible consumption’ towards nature-based products and will be educated to an above-average level. Many individual tourists will be far from wealthy (although they may be perceived as such by the host community), and for them it is likely to be the ‘holiday of a lifetime’, involving months of preparation – the anticipation phase of the trip – as well as recollection of the experience to other potential tourists long after their return to their country of origin. In the destination area, nature will be the main attraction, while the ancillary services (accommodation, catering and guiding) should be well managed and ‘environmentally friendly’. Participation in a learning experience is the primary objective of the trip, while shopping, night-time entertainment and recreation facilities are of less concern than is the case for other types of tourism. In the transit zone, where the tourists’ journeys take place, the ecotourist would ideally seek locally owned transport operators and non-polluting modes of transport. This might be an option for internal travel, from, say, the tourist’s base on arrival in the destination country to the national park or other protected areas that are to be visited.
However, ecotourism destinations like the Ecuadorian Amazon are almost by definition remote places, and reaching them from generating areas such as Britain requires a journey halfway across the world by air. Since aircraft emissions are a prime source of pollution and possibly contribute to ‘global warming’, this is the weakest link in the argument that ecotourism is the ‘greenest’ form of tourism.