Forest resources are central to conservation and development in the Asia-Pacific region. Not only do forests provide a number of ecosystem services to both the region and the world, they also are resources for economic and social development. The region includes a number of forest "hotspots" of environmental importance, as well as several countries undergoing rapid economic development and continued population growth. These forces make it critical that sustainable uses of forest resources be facilitated.
One of the means of facilitating sustainable use of forest resources is ecotourism. There are numerous definitions of ecotourism, and definitional issues are described further in Section 3.1. For purposes of this working paper, ecotourism is defined as "tourism and recreation that is both nature-based and sustainable."
Ecotourism has been embraced as a tool for generating economic benefits from forests and other natural resources while simultaneously conserving those resources. However, it is not a panacea for sustainable resource use, as benefits have not always been as great as desired while costs have sometimes been greater than expected (Laarman and Durst 1993; Lindberg 1991). The balance of benefits and costs will depend on a variety of factors, including destination appeal and accessibility. However, it also depends critically on how well ecotourism is planned and managed. This working paper provides an introduction to ecotourism and services of forests, together with an outlook and options for future management.
For purposes of this working paper, the products provided by forests are grouped into the following categories:
· timber production;
· special forest products or non-timber forest products, such as rattan and medicinal plants; and
· "services of forests" which incorporates the varied non-physical forest products, as described in Section 2.
This working paper focuses on the third category, and on ecotourism in particular. It should be stressed that though services of forests are less tangible than timber or non-timber forest products, they make highly important contributions to social and economic development.
The working paper is part of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Outlook study, which involves an assessment of the status, trends, and outlook for the forestry sector to the year 2010. Section 2 of the paper provides background on services of forests generally, and Section 3 provides background on ecotourism. These background sections are followed by Section 4, which describes relevant trends and issues, their implications, and options that might be implemented to achieve policy objectives. Lastly, the Annex contains notes on selected countries that provide additional background and illustrate issues.
Naturally, there is substantial variation across countries with respect to services of forests, relevant issues, and future outlook. For example, the concepts and implementation of ecotourism vary across countries, particularly between more and less developed countries. Nonetheless, there are significant commonalties, with general issues and principles relevant in a variety of situations. This working paper provides a discussion of general issues and principles, while also providing some specifics.
The working paper is inherently limited by the lack of ecotourism statistics. This lack partly results from the nature of tourism flows, which are not as easily measured as timber flows. It also results from the lack of common and easily-applied definitions for tourism generally and, especially, for ecotourism in particular. Lastly, the limited project budget precluded site visits or the contracting of country or topic specialists. For these reasons, the working paper primarily provides an overview, though significant effort has gone into providing illustrative details and data wherever possible.
Throughout the paper, the term "natural areas" is used instead of "forest areas." This usage recognizes that many forestry agencies in the region manage non-forested areas. In addition, the term is used instead of "protected areas" to reflect that not all relevant areas are in public ownership or have legal protection. Nonetheless, many of the sites used for ecotourism in the region are national parks or one of the other IUCN protected area designations.