Frequently Asked Questions about Ecotourism

1. Is ecotourism for everyone?
Ecotourism destinations are only appreciated by a few and these are people who love to be with nature, appreciate culture, willing to learn and experience new things, and are willing to pay a premium for life enhancing experiences. Ecotourism products are designed to promote responsible travel and teach deep values and principles. These products may not suit everyone’s need and preferences but everyone is encouraged to try it at least once in their life. The ecotourism market is a niched market and this means that not all tourists should even be allowed in ecotourism sites. The majority of the tourism market are irresponsible and create major impacts in the places they visit.

2. How can irresponsible tourists be prevented from going to ecotourism sites?
It is not possible to prevent irresponsible people from visiting ecotourism sites.Attitude is not dictated by economic status or educational attainment. Even rich people and those who have gone to formal schooling can behave irresponsibly in ecotourism sites. Pricing is one way of ensuring that a small segment of the market can have access to ecologically significant destinations. This is where the high-value/ low volume strategy comes in. Another is the strict implementation of rules and protocols and the imposition of fines and penalties to those who violate regulations. Environmental education is a way to teach people appreciation of the environment, ecology and culture. Integrating experiential activities that highlight nature and the community aim to transform peoples attitude. Determining the carrying capacity of the destination and imposing a cap on the volume will also minimise impacts of people on the integrity of the places they visit.

3. Is ecotourism development suitable for all tourism destinations or protected areas?
Since ecotourism capitalises on the natural environment, a place needs to have a compelling well preserved natural ecosystem in order to succeed in creating an ecotourism product. Ecosystems may be a forest, a river with mangroves, coral reefs, tidal flats with extensive seagrass meadows or anything that nature has created and cannot simply be duplicated by man. Apart from this number one prerequisite, there are other element that need to be in place in order to increase the likelihood of success such as peace and order, safety from natural disasters, access, presence of organised groups, support of local government units and private sector, amenities, infrastructure and support services (banking, finance). Simply having an attraction is not enough to have a successful ecotourism venture. Tourism is also a destructive industry. Protected areas that are pristine and remote should not even be opened yet for tourism, otherwise the very resource that is being protected may be destroyed faster than conservation efforts may be implemented.

4. What is high value/low value tourism and why is it associated with ecotourism?
Ecotourism was originally conceptualised for protected areas or places with high ecological value. Since tourism in general is still considered destructive, ecotourism imposes certain restrictions, one of which is strict adherence to carrying capacity. In order to make ecotourism enterprises economically viable for proponents or communities, the product need to be of high value such that visitors will have to pay a premium for the unique and life enhancing experience. This achieves two things: adequate economic benefit for several sectors of the community and low guide to guest ratio. The latter increases safety and enjoyment level and prevents unwanted liability issues for marginalised stakeholders who have no capability to deal with legal problems. Part of the strategy to increase value of the product or experience is the implementation of high standards in training which results to increased safety factor and visitor satisfaction.

5. How is cultural heritage related to ecotourism and sustainable development?
Cultural heritage is either man-made structures such as old churches, houses, architecture, or intangibles (history, literature, songs, dances, stories,beliefs). All these provide enhancements to ecotourism products. Remember that ecotourism primarily capitalizes on nature (ecosystem, biodiversity) but culture deepens the experience of a visitor to a natural site. Putting them together creates life-enhancing experiences that teach people values such as stewardship, cooperation and appreciation. These values create responsible travellers. When people develop responsible attitudes they tend to create less negative impacts on the environment on a daily basis. When more people are conscious about their impact, then we have a better chance of creating a sustainable world.