Sustainable Tourism Through Alternative Forms of Tourism

3 March 2017

Sustainable tourism is only achievable through the development of alternative and new forms of tourism. Critically discuss this statement with reference to one or more examples of alternative tourism in developed or developing countries. The development of Sustainable Tourism has allowed society to meet their own present needs, without compromising such needs of future generations (Weaver and Lawton, 2010). Much attention in relation to sustainable tourism has been devoted to Alternative Tourism.

Alternative Tourism aims to preserve environmental, economical and socio-cultural impacts tourists have on a destination. This paper will explore the benefits and criticisms of sustainability by a means of Alternative Tourism and also the threat regarding Alternative Tourism potentially developing into Mass Tourism. Tourists visit foreign countries to obtain a sense of paradise, and dabble in a society that has not yet been corrupted (Buchner, 2003). Sustainable Tourism aims to provide such paradise by meeting the needs of tourists, without effecting the economy, environment and society in a detrimental way.

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Thus far, Sustainable Tourism has had a vast variety of implications, such as ethical considerations and the suggestion that it may just be a marketing ploy (Lansing and Vries, 2007). It also has been confused with Ecotourism, a form of tourism that places emphasis on a sustainable connection with the natural environment (Weaver and Lawton, 2010). However, Ecotourism is actually a form of Alternative Tourism and potentially Mass Tourism (Weaver and Lawton, 2010) thus fitting with a number of other new forms of tourism. Alternative tourism has emerged and assumed to be effective in developing countries (Britton 1979).

Alternative tourism is a substitute to the mass standard tourism, which is tourism that has the implication of culture being co modified and staged for culture consumption (McIntosh and Zahara, 2007), as philosophy and attitudes are dissimilar and the combination of tourist products and/or services are different from Mass Tourism. Forms of Alternative Tourism include Indigenous tourism, Pro-poor tourism, Community-based tourism, Ecotourism, Adventure tourism, Fair-Trade tourism, Educational tourism and Volunteer Tourism (Newsome, Moore and Dowling, 002). For example, Fair-Trade tourism seeks to create a partnership between the local people at destinations, by providing social, cultural and economical benefits through adhering to national laws and establishing strong First World/Third World structures (Mowforth and Munt, 1998). A key focus on changing consumption levels lead to the establishment of tourism Concern’s International Fair Trade in Tourism Network. It found that to preserve attractions of destinations, whilst providing benefits it was substantial to adopt ethical trading practices (www. ourismconcern. org. uk). Another successful alternative form of tourism takes place in Bulgaria. Here, resources for Alternative Tourism are diverse and it combines preserved nature with unique cultural and historical heritage, moderate climates, beautiful landscapes and hospital people who welcome differences and respecting traditions. They implement thematic tourism, which involves a connection between the cultural and historical heritage, the religion, traditional cuisine, wine, traditional music and handcrafts.

They focus on the idea that Bulgaria is a place to rest and relax, whilst connecting with nature and that it should thus be a high priority and responsibility to preserve nature (Illev, 2006). This form of tourism is attractive to a tourist whom is seeking to escape the “daily grind” and thus has made Bulgaria a sustainable income base for such an alternative form of tourism. It is often assumed that the basis of alternative tourism is a “green” strategy (Butler, 1992), as the objective is to reduce negative impacts environmentally.

However, this is not completely the case as preserving the environment is only one of the objectives. The problem with this assumption is that research has indicated the demand for holidays that are “green” is low, and thus it may not lead to sustainable tourism. This coincides with the statement of some companies suggesting they will only attempt to achieve sustainable tourism if they can see a strong market demand for eco-friendly holidays (Forsythe, 2006).

On the other hand, however, consumer activation has indicated that there are actually a number of people increasingly willing to purchase and consume environmentally friendly products. A study from the International Hotels Environment Initiative and Accor has shown 90% of hotel guests to prefer residing in a hotel that has a strong focus on the environment (Mensah, 2004). From such demand the green strategy has become more centralized with a greater willingness to pay a premium for green products, corporate image, employee morale, and customer satisfaction and demand (Manaktola and Jauhari, 2007).

Thus, this allows us to conclude that Sustainable Tourism can only be achieved through each alternative form of tourism adapting to meet the demand of the market (Forsythe, 2006). A different, but increasingly popular new form of tourism is Volunteer Tourism. It has been argued that it is vital to a model of alternative cultural tourism, as intrinsic motivation was found to be evoked within the tourist, when such experience was endured, thus being beneficial to both the host and volunteer, and provides a meaningful interaction (Wearing and Neil, 2000).

It has been said that traditional interaction between the host and tourist is rewritten through the tourist’s encounter. This is because it is actively contrived together by the host and the tourist (McIntosh and Zahra, 2007). This approach provides the potential opportunity of volunteer tourism fostering creative, alternative and more sustainable types of tourism and tourism activity (McIntosh and Zahra, 2007).

Furthermore, it is a form that conforms to the ideology that was promoted by the initial pioneers of Sustainable Tourism and unites with the principles of those who encourage creative tourism as an alternative option of Cultural Tourism (Richard and Wilson, 2006). One of the many criticisms of such new form of tourism, however, involves the ethics of Volunteer tourism as a ‘best practice’ alterative of tourism (Wearing, 2004). Such example involves the idea of viewing Volunteer Tourism as a contributor to the limitation of self-sufficiency in communities. Alternative forms of tourism do have disadvantages and criticisms.

These can include clan or group rivalries, advocates being bias and uncritical, modest economic returns, control assumed by local elite, reflections of “Western” values, and the fact that locals may actually prefer Mass Tourism (Weaver and Opperman, 2000). Furthermore, it can be quite difficult to achieve sustainability through alternative tourism due to inadequate resources, management, control systems and income, and if proper controls are not in place it may be difficult to distinguish between Mainstream Tourism and Alternative Tourism (Leksakundilok, 2006).

For example, Backpacking Tourism has created a blur between Mass Tourism and Alternative Tourism (Welk, 2004), as the search for greater and more authentic experiences, as backpackers, pushes them to access remote places, thus ironically contributing to their commercialisation (Zurick, 1995). Alternative tourism is often introduced because tourists are seeking different conventions to what they are use to and also because they have been influenced by marketing concepts that have lead them to believe that conventional and mainstream tourism is irresponsible.

The former point derives from the idea that some tourists want to get away from crowded destinations and experience authentic culture. The problem with authentic culture is that what is authentic to some people, may be inauthentic to others (Pearce and Moscardo, 1986), similar to that of what Alternative Tourism appears to be. A successful authentic tourist attraction involves New Zealand Maori tourism. It is a combination of entertainment, arts and crafts, cultural interpretation and accommodation operations and there appears to be a large demand for this type of tourism.

However, problems arise when there are misunderstandings about the cultural performances and it can be argued, for example, that on one level all copies of local art are “authentic” because they convey a meaning of their own (Weaver and Lawton, 2010). For example, the increased demand of Maori cultural performances and products have been a result from an attempt to facilitate economic development for Maori communities and, as such, have been criticized as being a vague insight to the culture, only focusing on traditional cultural perspectives.

This has hence lead to the idea that tourists are enduring superficial and stereotypical experiences (McIntosh, 2004). So how can alternative forms of tourism be sustainable if what the alternative is, may not be perceived as authentic? To answer such question and meet tourists demands for authentic and real experiences of culture, Maori communities, for example, are attempting to provide a more engaging, sincere and meaningful interaction between tourists and the Maori people, hence, providing an “alternative” experience to the stereotypical and superficial performances that have critics rampant (Taylor, 2001).

This allows us to conclude that sustainability will only occur if the alternative form is perceived as authentic. Sustainability in any development is generally only successful with support of the local population and if the attitudes of the host population oppose the new forms of tourism, the development may stop (Gyrsoy and Rutherford, 2004).

Furthermore, new forms of tourism are suggested to not be able to be sustained unless it is urbanized through local initiatives, which are consistent and harmonious with the local environment, community and cultures. For example, Volunteer Tourism is centralised around the essence that contributions to the host communities exist in form of socio-cultural, economical and environmental benefits, however for sustainability to occur a “moral agenda” or a “practical route map” must be addressed and treated with utmost importance (Macbeth, 1994).

Through such emphasis, a strong and reciprocated relationship between the tourists participating, and the host community can be developed, and has shown that Volunteer tourism, as an alternative and new form or tourism, can not only improve aspects of the hosts’ communities environmentally, but also provide a vast variety of social and personal benefits to the participant, which include social network systems and an increased understanding of social and environmental issues (McGehee, 2002).

The biggest problem with Sustainable Tourism being achieved through alternative forms of tourism is the major factor of time. How long can new forms of tourism remain alternatives from Mass Tourism? The more global issues are being recognised from impacts of tourism, the more tourists are becoming aware of how they travel (McGehee, 2002). Thus the emergence of Ecotourism occurred in order to keep impacts of the tourist activity at bay.

Nevertheless, even with such emergence, the more popular the activity becomes, the more impacts it may have, for example the sensitizing of ecosystems, stressing wildlife, contributing to soil erosion, deteriorating the quality of water and exacerbating coral reef destruction (Debarbieri, 2008). However, if a control system is in place and management is of a high importance, destinations of alternative forms of tourism can provide a sustainable base where both Mass Tourism is prevented and the impacts of such are avoided, through the alternative forms of tourism (Westerhausen, 2002).

In conclusion sustainability is achieved through alternative forms of tourism, however whether or not the negatives out number the positives is yet to be concluded. This paper explored both the benefits and detrimental issues that are extracted from new forms of tourism, however it can be set in stone that if a control system is in place and importance is imposed on a highly managed route system to sustainability, Alternative Tourism is definitely a method of achieving such objective.

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