Ecotourism, surfaced in the late 1980s, is the fastest growing sector of one of the industries in the world. An upsurge in ecotourism, particularly in developing countries, has been created because of the demands for remote, exotic, and natural environments (Scheyvens, 1999). The word ‘ecotourism’ has been coined relatively and a number of different meanings of this word seem like ambassadors travelling every corner of the world. As a result, the marketing value of ecotourism has been exploited by the tourism industry (Goodwin, 1996).
In addition, the demand for ecotourism is intimately bound up with the increased awareness to reduce the antagonistic impacts on the environment. Likewise, this has been boosted substantially by means of consumers seeking more abundant and individualistic tourism experience. As ecotourism has been recognized gradually globally, it has been touted as a form of sustainable tourism development and as a potential means to promote the conservation of biological resources (Farrell, & Runyan, 1991). Ecotourism could improve conservation of natural resources. This would take place in four ways.
Firstly, it could provide a preferred financial alternative to destructive resource management (Tobias, & Mendelsohn, 1991). Secondly, it might seek local support by enhancing and promoting economic, social, or cultural conditions such as generating employment, industry stimulation, economic diversification and increased government involvement. Tangible financial benefits for protected areas could be produced through ecotourism. For example, management costs could be offset by entrance fees (Lindberg, 1991). Lastly, educating Eco-tourists to foster the spirit of advocacy is inextricable with ecotourism.
For instance, encouraging protection stems mainly from developing awareness, insight, appreciation and respect by participants for the local environment (Harrison, 1990). This paper starts with brief background of ecotourism and the significance of ecotourism. Likewise, this paper will briefly describe the current approaches to be used in the sustainability of ecotourism development. After this, two cases of ecotourism products will be identified and benefits and challenges of implementing an ecotourism project will be elaborated.
Lastly, this paper will end up a reflection and conclusion of the paper’s aims. Approaches to ecotourism development The sustainability of the ecotourism development would not happen by accident. This is inextricably attributed to the application of comprehensive and minimalist approaches. The minimalist approach is aimed at focusing on site-specific, status quo oriented and the natural environment. The comprehensive approach, however, places an emphasis on a holistic perspective of the ecotourism product that integrates the ecosystem and human influences (Harrison, 1995).
This approach tends to enhance deep understanding and to transform participant attitudes and behaviour (Weaver, 2005). Furthermore, attaining the objectives of environmental and sociocultural sustainability is intimately associated with the implementation of the comprehensive approach. Likewise, the comprehensive approach mainly pertains to benefits of a product development that are reflected in donations and eagerness engaging in voluntary activities such litter collection and research assistance (Wearing, 2001).
In contrast, a minimalist approach is responsible for impeding the attainment of these sustainability objectives. Problems can surface from constructing hierarchies in which megafauna like giant pandas and mountain gorillas are valued more by managers than obscure but no less ecologically valuable species. In these two approaches, the comprehensive approach possesses more strengths than minimalist in achieving the sustainability of ecotourism such as the comprehensive ecotourism gaining deep understanding, focusing on environmental and sociocultural and emphasizing holistic approach (Weaver, 2005).
Cater (1994) highlighted the need for local community involvement in planning and developing ecotourism. Gaining the cooperation of local people to improve the feasibility of the development of ecotourism intimately leads to success of ecotourism management. There are two approaches that are favored currently for planning and management the development of ecotourism. The first approach is in relation to planning more formal systems, which attaches great significance to the potential benefits of ecotourism development.
This approach is aimed at overcoming the physical and practical barriers to ecotourism development (Garrod, 2003). The second one, however, is more linked with planning participatory, which is aimed at maintaining and building an appropriate balance between development and planning restraint. This approach tends to emphasize the need to integrate ecotourism with other forms of economic and social development so as to resolve these effects efficiently.. Drake (1991) claimed that these two approaches substantially paly a paramount role in planning ecotourism projects and creating benefits.
Firstly, increasing project efficiency is intimately bound up with consulting with local people or involving them in the management of the ecotourism project as well as ecotourism operation. Besides this, local involvement can increase project effectiveness and ensure that the project goals and benefits are achieved. Additionally, these approaches are about building capacity among beneficiaries to understand what ecotourism exactly is and how they make great contribution to the sustainability of ecotourism development.
This can happen by ensuring that participants are involved in the project and by formal training and raising awareness (Garrod, 2003). There would be other effective approaches for the development of ecotourism, while these approaches without involving local people just scratch the surface of addressing challenges that ecotourism development is confronting. Ecotourism developments Sundarbans, Bengal, India| Penang National Park (PNP)| Strengths * Good tourism infrastructure; * Differentiated local culture which supports the ecotourism development; * A number of natural attractions including Royal Bengal Tiger and estuarine crocodile. Strengths * Accessibility is high; * No entry cost for average tourists; * Having good relationships with local touring companies; * Having an education hub is created by NGOs; * Having support from international researchers | Weaknesses * Less participation and coordination of local people in tourism development * Lack of incentives supporting local people to engage tourism development| Weaknesses * Lack of admission support with regarding to entering into PNP * Lack of signs of boarding and fencing around the Park * Lack of suitable solid waste management| Opportunities * Opportunities in diversifying of ecotourism products including trail walk and country boasts * Participation of local people will provide more value in ecotourism package| Opportunities * Increasing artnership with local hotels, restaurants * Set up admission fees to generate more income for future development| Threats * Increasing population may damage the sustainability of ecotourism program * Ecosystem can be negatively impacted by poor management | Threats * Farmer’s encroachment * Stealing of flora and fauna| Case of Sundarbans The resources of flora and fauna are the natural wealth to Sundarban. There are more than 60 plant species and 90% mangrove species in this area which provide a comfortable environment to amphibian tigers. Distinctively, Sundarban Tiger Reserve has more than 260 in quantity from other tiger reserve zones of other countries (Bhattacharya, Bhattacharya & Patra, 2011).
Sundarban is a tourists’ paradise where thousands of tourists tend to visit the mangrove tiger land. The title of ecotourism is well-known in Sundarban. Ecotourism is considered as an ecologically, morally and ethically part of tourism which is aimed at optimizing cultural and ecological benefits. Likewise, it provides the tourist with an inspiring experience as well as more economic benefit. Community-based ecotourism makes substantial contribution to the ecotourism framework. Kersten (1997) claimed the local community maintains major control over the management and maximizes the profits of the project. Instead of regional development, the participation marginalized sector and community development can be referred to this strategy.
Developing and managing ecotourism is intimately bound up with requiring a conducive environment that can boost its development and smooth operation. For Sundarbans, the most important requirement is the local people participation in larger number. Besides this, ensuring the income generated from this region stays with the community (Bhattacharya et al. , 2011). Moreover, the success of Sundarbans is inextricably attributable to the satisfaction of the tourists after visiting this place. The quantity of visitors, their duration of stay, their feedback and their desire of making another visit can clearly reflect their satisfaction. On the other hand, some major dilemma that Sundarban is confronting is the rise in the sea level that has had great negative effects on this delicate ecosystem.
Likewise, it also causes a rise in salinity. The reduction in number in the low salinity tolerant mangrove species is directly associated with this dilemma. A reduction of water reserve has been resulted from the rise of salinity. Moreover, resorting to collecting tiger prawn seed by the local people is another major threat. This could be detrimental to the natural regeneration of the mangroves (Bhattacharya et al. , 2011). Thus, Sundarban’s ecosystem is being threatened by all of factors. In order to effectively respond to these threats and establish a sustainable planning for ecotourism, ensuring communal ownership and control is essential for that.
Besides, fostering a feeling of pride and community through a preservation of traditional practices and cultural techniques is a means to achieve that. Through educating local population about the negative impact of overexploiting, it is expected that the environmental consciousness can be cultivated. Moreover, developing a proper ecotourism package that is different from the existing mass tourism packages was exactly what the local government intervened or focused on. Case of Penang National Park (PNP) The PNP, which is a coastal forest on an island, is endowed with inland forest and woodlands in the park extending to the sea. There are special forest communities which include mangrove areas, pear swamps, beach forests and riparian forests (Hong and Chan, 2010).
In addition to mangrove areas, the PNP is in possession of eight forest beaches, rocky shores and inner forest. Noticeably, the resources of timber, medicinal and ornamental plants are relatively rich in PNP. Interestingly, the PNP houses a biological and marine research station owned by the University Sains Malaysia (Hong and Chan, 2010). Furthermore, as Penang is stressed for water, the PNP plays an important in water catchment area for the Teluk Bahand dam (Hong & Chan, 2010). According to Kumar (2004), the PNP can definitely claim to be one of the natural heritage sites in Malaysia standing for ecotourism and natural heritage conservation with vast potentials.
This would not happen automatically but lie in successfully carrying appropriate strategies out and the natural strengths. Firstly, the PNP is in possession with many unique features which are exclusive compared to other national parks. These unique features include a unique lake and mudflats. Besides that, the park is abundant in biodiversity, harboring rich fauna like the giant flying squirrel, and flying lemurs (Ong & Dhanarajan, 1976). Furthermore, establishing partnerships with hotels in Batu Feringghi and Tanjung Bungah in promoting the PNP to the international tourists made great contribution to success of The PNP (Hong and Chan, 2010).
Additionally, the sustainable operation of the PNP is directly linked to sustainable income generated through collection of entrance fees to The PNP maintenances. According to Hong and Chan (2010), 80% of the total visitors are willing to pay for an entrance fee and to participate in ownerships of the PNP. Lastly, George Town City in Penang has been listed as one of UNESCO’S world Heritage Site on 7 July 2008, which has exposed the PNP to the international tourists (Hong & Chan, 2010). However, several threats to ecotourism development of PNP have surfaced. The foremost threat to PNP is the solid waste management. The PNP is confronting environmental threats with regard to risks of flora and fauna extinction, as more visitors flock to this place (Lee & Leong, 2003).
Moreover, farming activities such as deforestation and replacing the cleared area with crops could lead to a significant increase in soil erosion and could affect the ecosystem (Chan, Chan, & Kumar, 2004). In order to effectively respond to these threats, Penang stat government took its roles in controlling these threats and creating a balance between development and conservation. Besides this, the PNP has built a nature education center for school children, a natural laboratory for scientific research and a life laboratory for ecotourism research (Chan, 2009). Sustainable development of ecotourism stems from maximizing strengths and minimizing threats. Reflection There is no doubt that ecotourism is increasingly being regarded as a strategy to resolve economic and social problems in local communities.
It is also increasingly being considered as an appropriate and effective tool for environmental conservation. As the ecotourism development is increasingly becoming an important economic vehicle in natural areas, these two cases thoroughly mirrors the characteristics of ecotourism. Not only does it provide opportunities for visitors to experience powerful manifestations of nature and culture, but also it generates economic benefits for communities living in rural and remote areas. Drumm and Moore (2005) stated that the implementation of ecotourism makes great contribution to giving economic value to ecosystem services and generating direct income for the conservation of protected areas.
In addition to these, direct or indirect income is generated by the development of ecotourism. Incentives for conservation in local communities are exactly what ecotourism creates. Furthermore, ecotourism implementation can be considered as a tourism strategy for promoting sustainable use of natural resources and reducing threats to biodiversity (Drumm and Moore, 2005). The benefits of ecotourism have greater potentiality in many destinations, for these two cases, the process of ecotourism planning is considered as a useful conservation strategy in addressing those potentialities. Benefiting both local people and the protected area are the ideal component of a sustainable development strategy in ecotourism.
The ultimate success of an ecotourism initiative would be reflected in having low impact upon a protected area’s natural resources and involving stakeholders in planning, developing, implementation and monitoring. On the other hand, it is inevitable that some serious challenges would be confronted in ecotourism development. Firstly, in some areas earnings from ecotourism are moved to social and infrastructural programs instead of reinvesting into conservation and maintenance. For example, even though Costa Rica’s park successfully implemented an ecotourism project, the sustainability of the parks has been jeopardized by using earning in infrastructural programs rather than using in conservation process. In addition to this challenge, political will to support ecotourism development plays a vital role in leading to success of the sustainability.
Effectively responding to these challenges is directly associated with ensuring ecological, social and economic sustainability when implementing an ecotourism project. Besides this, building strong partnerships with state government and hotels is a core means to handle these challenges. Moreover, taking a leaf out of the historical books is critical to pave the way for the future. Conclusion The definition of ecotourism is increasingly becoming blurred, or it is a relatively new concept. Some people have abused the term to attract conservation conscious tourists. It is concluded that the local people’s welfare and natural environment can be benefited from the development of ecotourism. Both participants and stakeholders play a critical role in the tourism development and ecotourism implementation.
The need to recognize involving communities in the development of ecotourism is essential and important for contributing to the sustainability of ecotourism development. Ecotourism planners might put profits first or feasibility first. However, involving people or communities would be the optimal approach to achieve the sustainability of ecotourism. There are economic, ecological, environmental and social reasons to implementing an ecotourism project. The sustainability of ecotourism development is inextricably associated with these factors.