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3.1 Ecotourism, Definitions, Concepts and Visitor Types
3.2 Actors in the Ecotourism "System"
3.3 Overview of Tourism and Ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific Region
3.4 The Dimensions of Ecotourism

Visitors have long been travelling to natural areas under the guise of recreation and tourism. This has led some observers to question whether ecotourism is simply a new name for an old activity (Wall 1994). However, several changes apparently have occurred in the last decade. First, for reasons discussed in Section 3.3, there has been growth in visits to many natural areas, particularly in developing countries. Second, many economic development professionals increasingly have viewed natural-area visitation as a tool for providing employment in regions that have experienced decline, or lack of development, in other industries.

Third, many conservation and resource management professionals increasingly have viewed natural area visitation as an avenue for enhancing natural area finance and providing conservation-related benefits, particularly to residents living near natural areas. Fourth, there has been increasing attention paid to improving the sustainability of all tourism activities, including those occurring in natural areas. Thus, although ecotourism may not represent an abrupt departure from historic recreation and tourism, it does represent a change in the level of visitation for many areas and a change in the goals that various stakeholders attach to this visitation.

The Australia case exemplifies the development of the ecotourism phenomenon (Lindberg and McKercher 1997). In the late 1980s, ecotourism was an unknown entity that was just beginning to emerge in the popular lexicon. Its growth was spurred by the ongoing debate over tourism and the environment and as a direct result of the enthusiasm for ecologically sustainable development (ESDWG 1991). At first, its potential market base was seen to be small although, as a new product, its growth potential was seen to be large.

However, this niche concept changed in the early 1990s. The term ecotourism struck a chord with the tourism industry, the travelling public, and with private and public sector agencies charged with the promotion of tourism products. Ecotourism became a buzzword. The explosion of interest in ecotourism led to the emergence of a lively debate among academics and industry leaders about the merits of the activity. Ecotourism conferences resulted in the formation of a national ecotourism association, the Ecotourism Association of Australia. In the space of four years, the Commonwealth government (Allcock et al. 1994), state governments (DCE 1992), and even regional associations (NPWS 1996) produced a variety of ecotourism policies designed to encourage the industry's development. This same period saw rapid expansion in the number of ecotourism operators and the emergence of specialist tour wholesalers and retail travel agents to market ecotourism products (Richardson 1996; Southern 1996).

By the mid 1990s, ecotourism, as a concept, began to enter a period of maturity. Many of the claims made in earlier years began to be disputed, and the legitimacy of many players to call themselves ecotourism products was challenged. The travelling public either has become more aware of what ecotourism encompasses or more critical about the idea to accept blindly the claims that mass tourism destinations are ecotourism destinations. Assumptions regarding the benefits of ecotourism have been challenged through empirical research (Lindberg, Enriquez, and Sproule 1996; Driml and Common 1995). As a result, a more realistic understanding of what the product entails and the benefits it can provide is emerging.

3.1 Ecotourism, Definitions, Concepts and Visitor Types

Much attention has been paid to the question of what constitutes ecotourism, and numerous concepts and definitions exist (Ballantine and Eagles 1994; Blarney 1995; Bottrill and Pearce 1995; Buckley 1994). The Ecotourism Society, based in the US and the most international of the ecotourism organizations, defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people. The Australian National Ecotourism Strategy defines ecotourism as Anature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable. Numerous other definitions exist around the world.

The variability in conceptual definitions like these is further complicated by the difficulty of moving from a conceptual definition to an operational definition. For example, a conceptual definition may involve sustainability, but when one tries to measure whether someone is an ecotourist or some tourism activity is ecotourism, a more precise definition of sustainability is needed. What are the criteria one uses to determine whether the activity is sustainable and thus qualifies as ecotourism?

Most conceptual definitions of ecotourism can be reduced to the following: "ecotourism is tourism and recreation that is both nature-based and sustainable," and it is this definition1 that is used here. Three features of this definition merit further discussion. First, the definition clarifies the descriptive and the prescriptive components of the ecotourism concept. The nature component is descriptive or positive in the sense that it simply describes the activity location and associated consumer motivations. The sustainable component is prescriptive or normative in the sense that it reflects what people want the activity to be. An important point is that, as used here, sustainability incorporates environmental, experiential, sociocultural, and economic dimensions.

1 The rest of this section shows that there is significant diversity in definitions of ecotourism and in the characteristics of ecotourism experiences. Typically, and as used here, most tourism activities that occur in natural areas are loosely considered ecotourism. In practice, ecotourism is concerned with making all nature tourism activities more sustainable-with achieving the conceptual definition presented above.

Second, this basic conceptual definition incorporates more complex definitions. For example, some definitions focus on minimizing negative environmental and cultural impacts while maximizing positive economic impacts. Such a focus is a means to the end of achieving sustainability. Likewise, the definitional focus on environmental education tends to reflect a desire to satisfy tourists or to use education to reduce negative environmental impacts. In the former case, it is a means to the end of achieving a sustainable experience. In the latter, it is also a means to the end of sustainability. Because most components of ecotourism definitions either focus on the goal of sustainability or on means to achieve that goal, it is practical to use the simple conceptual definition of ecotourism being sustainable nature-based tourism and recreation.

Third, and related to the second feature, by focusing on ends (the desired condition of sustainability), this definition forces critical evaluation of what constitutes ecotourism. For example, is sport hunting ecotourism? Many observers feel that hunting is not ecotourism, but under this definition it would be if it met the sustainability criterion. Though hunting will be inconsistent with concepts of sustainability in some natural areas (or may be rejected on other grounds), it may be appropriate in others. Similarly, a large commercial group of tourists paying an entry fee to visit a hardened visitor centre and associated rainforest boardwalk may qualify as ecotourists to the same degree as a small group of visitors following low-impact principles in a pristine wilderness.

Given the importance of sustainability within the ecotourism definition, a fundamental question is "What is sustainability?" In simplified terms, tourism sustainability is postulated to result from a positive overall balance in environmental, experiential, sociocultural, and economic impacts ("experiential impact" is used to describe the effect of visitors on each other and "sociocultural impact" is used to describe the effect of visitors on local residents). Thus, tourism activities that generate more positive net benefits would be more sustainable, in general, than tourism activities that generate fewer positive net benefits.

The focus on benefits also clarifies ecotourism-related objectives. Historically, many sites have sought to increase the number of tourists, but this objective slowly is giving way to increasing tourist expenditure (a positive benefit), which does not always require increasing the number of tourists. Hopefully, this objective will progress to one of increasing income generated in the region of question (again, which need not involve an increase in expenditure). Ultimately, the objective should be to increase net benefits, a measure of benefits less costs. This refinement of objectives to focus on net benefits enhances the likelihood that ecotourism will be sustainable.

With respect to visitor types and activities, a key consideration is the diversity within the ecotourism market. Ecotourists may differ greatly in several aspects, including:

· distance travelled;
· length of stay;
· desired level of physical effort and comfort;
· importance of nature in trip motivation;
· level of learning desired;
· amount of spending;
· desired activities; and
· personal demographics.

For example, ecotourism experiences can range from 1) a foreigner spending thousands of dollars coming to Australia on a commercial tour to visit the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforests to 2) a local resident camping over the weekend at an adjacent national park. Ecotourists might engage in a wide range of activities, including trekking (hiking, bushwalking), climbing, camping, hunting, photography, sight-seeing, fishing, birdwatching, whale viewing, and general exploration of remote natural areas.

Of particular interest, visitor surveys (e.g., Eagles, Ballantine, and Fennell 1992) and anecdotal reports indicate that many ecotourists feel it important for their visit to contribute to conservation and local development. Though this is not important for all ecotourists, it does present additional motivation for businesses and government agencies to support conservation and development efforts.

Lindberg (1991) provides a typology of nature/ecotourism types, though many other typologies are possible:

· Hard-core: scientific researchers or members of tours specifically designed for education, environmental restoration, or similar purposes.

· Dedicated: people who take trips specifically to see protected areas and who want to understand local natural and cultural history.

· Mainstream: people who visit the Amazon, the Rwandan gorilla park, or other such destinations primarily to take an unusual trip.

· Casual: people who partake of nature incidentally, such as through a day trip during a broader vacation.

3.2 Actors in the Ecotourism "System"

Ecotourism often involves numerous actors, including:

· Visitors;

· Natural areas and their managers, including both public and private areas;

· Communities;

· Businesses, including various combinations of local businesses, in-bound operators, outbound operators, hotel and other accommodation providers, restaurants and other food providers, and so on;

· Government, in addition to its role as a natural area manager; and

· Non-governmental organizations, such as environmental and rural development NGOs.

The relevant actors will vary across sites. For example, local communities may be present at some sites, but not others. Likewise, businesses may play a large role at some sites, but little or no role at others.

A common phenomenon is that ecotourism can generate both symbiosis and conflict between the actors. The potential for ecotourism to result in symbiosis between conservation (e.g., natural areas) and development (e.g., businesses) has been widely touted, but the potential for conflict should not be ignored. For example, natural area managers and ecotourism businesses have a shared interest in conserving the natural environment. However, there often is conflict regarding the point at which tourism activity jeopardizes this conservation.

3.3 Overview of Tourism and Ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific Region

Tourism in the Region
Future Growth in Tourism in the Region
Ecotourism in the Region
Past and Future Ecotourism Growth in the Region

This section provides quantitative and qualitative information regarding tourism and ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific region. The statistical data are based on World Tourism Organization (WTO) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates. In addition, the WTO figures in particular generally are for international tourism and do not include domestic tourism, which often is quite substantial.

More importantly, readers should remember the inherent limitations of tourism and ecotourism statistics. There are a several problems associated with measuring tourist flows and resulting economic impacts (WTO 1997). One of these problems is the lack of a universal definition of tourism. Thus, the data presented here should be treated with caution.

Caution is even more important when one turns to ecotourism, as definitions of this activity are even less universal. There have been relatively few attempts to develop an operational definition of ecotourism, one that allows the number of ecotourists or their economic impacts to be measured. Therefore, there have been very few estimates of the importance of ecotourism, either in absolute terms or as a proportion of tourism generally. Moreover, for practical reasons, the estimates that have been made typically are based on definitions focused on the nature component, with little or no consideration of the sustainability component. Thus, estimates typically reflect nature tourism rather than ecotourism. In short, currently it is all but impossible to estimate with any accuracy the importance of ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific region.

Given these important caveats, the following information provides an indication of tourism and ecotourism in the region.

Tourism in the Region

As noted by the WTO (1996), the Asia-Pacific region has experienced rapid tourism growth during the past decade. The absolute and relative growth in arrivals and receipts is shown in Figures 1 and 2, respectively.

As illustrated by the figures, tourism in the East Asia and Pacific region has grown much faster than in the South Asia region, and somewhat faster than global tourism. WTO (1997) estimates that the East Asia and Pacific region had 87 million international arrivals in 1996, with South Asia having 4.5 million international arrivals in that period. These arrivals generated US$80.8 billion and US$4.0 billion in receipts, respectively2. The importance of tourism relative to other economic sectors is illustrated by the share of tourism receipts in services and merchandise exports (WTO 1997:18):

2 The Asia-Pacific region thus accounted for about a sixth of world international arrivals and nearly a quarter of receipts in 1996 (editor).


Share of tourism receipts in services

Ratio of tourism receipts to merchandise exports

Northeast Asia



Southeast Asia



Australasia (AU + NZ)



Other Oceania



Figure 1: International Tourism Arrivals (millions)

Figure 2: International Tourism Receipts (US$ billions)

Though tourism plays a particularly important role in Oceania, these figures indicate its importance throughout the East Asia and Pacific region. WTTC (1997) estimates of travel and tourism's impact on regional output are (includes domestic tourism, amounts in US$ billions):

Northeast Asia


Southeast Asia


South Asia




Within the East Asia and Pacific region, the top ten countries in terms of international tourism receipts, excluding transport, for 1996 are (WTO 1997:51, amounts in US$ billions):

Hong Kong












Korea (Rep.)








The top ten East Asia and Pacific countries in terms of average annual growth rate for receipts, 1986-1996, are (WTO 1997:40, 43, 46):















N. Mariana Is.


Hong Kong




Importantly, the region is not solely a recipient of visitors from outside the region. Indeed, the following figures for market share (percent of total arrivals in East Asia and the Pacific coming from each source region, 1996) indicate that countries within the region generate most of the region's tourism arrivals (WTO 1997:54):

East Asia/Pacific






South Asia




Middle East


Using a different country grouping, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (1996) reports that 61% of the international arrivals in the Pacific Asia region originated from Asia, up from only 45% a decade ago.

The current importance of intraregional travel is illustrated by the case of Malaysia. As of 1994, the ten largest markets for Malaysia were, in decreasing order (MCAT 1995):

Singapore (by far the largest)
Hong Kong

The future importance of intraregional travel is illustrated by efforts by national tourism organizations and the private sector to increase such travel. For example, Tourism Malaysia's bimonthly publication Malaysia Tourism summarizes efforts to attract the Japanese (March/April and September/October 1996 issues), Chinese (March/April and July/August 1996), Indonesian (September/October 1996), and Indian (July/August 1996) markets.

Future Growth in Tourism in the Region

As noted by the WTO (1997: 10, 34), the reasons for regional tourism growth include:

· rapidly growing income;
· freer intraregional travel;
· increased leisure time;
· dynamic trade and investment;
· government promotion measures, such as launching "visit years"; and
· political stability in many of the region's countries.

Many of these factors are expected to continue, with the result being continued tourism growth into the future. Indeed, the East Asia and Pacific region is expected to surpass the Americas to become the world's number two tourism region by 2010, with 229 million international arrivals (WTO 1996). Of all the WTO regions, East Asia and Pacific is forecast to have the highest average annual growth rate (7.6%) between 1990 and 2010, with South Asia having the second highest rate, at 6.7% (the world rate is forecast at 4.1%).

The growth in arrivals is expected to result from roughly equal growth in the various source markets, including East Asia and the Pacific countries. Intraregional source market growth is particularly expected from the emerging economies of China, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore (WTO 1997).

The WTTC (1997) estimates that regional tourism output will increase by the following percentages in the ten years from 1997 to 2007:

Northeast Asia


Southeast Asia


South Asia




Ecotourism in the Region

There has been much discussion and debate regarding the size and growth of the ecotourism market. Although supporters of ecotourism, or any other phenomenon, like to provide large estimates, others question this growth in some contexts (Blamey 1995). Estimates of market size depend on the definition used to describe the market. As noted above, the lack of a widely-accepted operational definition of ecotourism hinders estimates of the ecotourism market and prevents effective comparisons across sites. Moreover, because the sustainability component of ecotourism definitions is particularly difficult to measure, most existing estimates are based solely on the nature-based component. Therefore, most estimates of ecotourism really are estimates of nature tourism.

Keeping in mind that estimates should be treated with caution, Ceballos-Lascurin (1993) reports a WTO estimate that nature tourism generates 7% of all international travel expenditure (c.f., Lindberg 1994). Campbell (1994) reports that approximately 20% of all foreign tourists to Thailand (in 1990) visited nature tourism sites. In some countries, such as Australia, the percentage is even higher (Blamey 1995). Assuming that the Asia-Pacific region follows the global pattern, 7% might be used as an extremely rough estimate of the region's international tourism that can be viewed as ecotourism, with several countries exhibiting higher proportions.

Lew (1997) divides ecotourism in the region into three zones: 1) South and Southeast Asia, which together comprise the major international destination region, 2) Australia and New Zealand, which have substantial domestic ecotourism industries, as well as a secondary international market, and 3) the peripheral ecotourism areas, including China and Japan to the north, and the Pacific islands to the east.

A thorough evaluation of ecotourism offerings and experiences across the region's countries was not possible given limited project resources. However, one ecotourism operator with many years of experience in Southeast Asia ranks countries in the following decreasing order in terms of ecotourism experiences: Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Several other countries are not ranked and do not play major ecotourism roles, including: Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Currently, most nature tourists at some sites and for some activities are foreigners, typically from North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. For example, Chudintra (1993) reports that 90% of Thailand's jungle tour clients are foreigners. However, domestic visitation predominates at many sites. For example, Campbell (1994) reports that about 90% of visitors to Indonesia's national parks are domestic tourists, while Chudintra reports that the percentage of such visitors in Thailand increased from 58% in 1986 to 85% in 1990. Further information on adventure and ecotourism source markets is provided in Aderhold (1996) and Wight (1996a; 1996b).

The characteristics of ecotourists and ecotourism vary widely across sites in the region. Nonetheless, Taman Negara in Malaysia illustrates some of these characteristics (DWNP 1996a, 1996b; Stecker 1996). From 1984 to 1993, visitor numbers increased 360%, from 8,200 to 30,000, respectively. Numbers have continued to increase, reaching 36,924 in 1994 and 43,491 in 1995 (an 18% growth rate from 1994 to 1995). Of the 1995 visitors, 48% were Malaysian, 8% Singaporean, 7% British, and 7% German.

The majority of the visitors were male (58%), young (89% under 40 years old), university educated (71%) and of high income. Motivations for visiting the park include:

· To see and experience rain forests (45% of respondents)
· For a holiday (16%)
· To get new experience (10%)
· For relaxation and sightseeing (8%)
· To see wildlife (8%)
· For recreation and adventure (6%) and
· To enjoy the camping life (3%).

Activities undertaken by visitors include (in decreasing order of frequency) jungle trekking, birdwatching, swimming, caving, visiting indigenous forest dwellers, botany, mountain climbing, and fishing. Somewhat more than a third of the visitors were on pre-arranged package tours from Kuala Lumpur, while somewhat less than two-thirds made their own travel arrangements.

Past and Future Ecotourism Growth in the Region

Though estimates of ecotourism's growth are rare, due to the definitional problem, most observers feel that ecotourism has grown faster than tourism generally during the past several years. Based on a survey of ecotourism operators in the region, Lew (1997) found that average annual growth rates have been steady at 10% to 25% over the past few years, and many are projecting higher growth in coming years.

There are various explanations for ecotourism's growth, including:

· increasing environmental awareness and interest, including the desire to be perceived by others as environmentally sensitive;

· increased media exposure to natural areas around the world;

· related to the above two, a desire to see natural areas before they disappear;

· increasing dissatisfaction with traditional tourism destinations and products, and a desire for more educative and challenging vacations;

· desire to go to novel destinations, sometimes as a way to "outdo" others (e.g., to be the first person one knows who has been to Antarctica); and

· easier access to remote ecotourism destinations through development of air routes, roads, and other infrastructure.

Insofar as the increased motivations to experience and preserve natural environments stem in part from more fundamental changes in societal values (Blamey 1995; Inglehart 1990), the continuation of these fundamental changes, particularly in developing countries, should lead to continued growth in demand for ecotourism. Many observers believe that the growth rate for ecotourism will be higher than for tourism generally. Thus, assuming an increase in the proportion of tourism represented by ecotourism from 7% to 10% and assuming that the WTO forecast of 229 million international arrivals by 2010 is accurate, an extremely rough estimate of the region's international ecotourism arrivals for 2010 would be 22.9 million. To this, one must add the substantial number of domestic visitors to natural areas.

The ecotourism market is expected to evolve over time. Much of the ecotourism growth probably will stem from intraregional travel (Choegyal 1996; Shukla 1996; WTO 1996; Wylie 1994). As noted above, growth in intraregional travel is expected for tourism generally as incomes rise and infrastructure improves. Moreover, intraregional ecotourism in particular is expected to grow as regional population centres become increasingly crowded and polluted, and as increased wealth and education lead to greater knowledge of, and interest in, the natural environment.

As noted in Section 4, growth in Asian ecotourism source markets will affect the type of experience sought by visitors. In general, it is expected that Asian ecotourists will travel in larger groups and will demand a higher degree of comfort than is the case for western ecotourists. They also may be more interested in ecotourism day trips while lodging and dining in comfortable resorts. An example of this is the Juldis Khao Yai resort and golf course on the border of Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. Asian visitors (mostly Japanese) flock to see the park, play golf, and stay in luxury in the middle of jungle surroundings.

Evolution probably also will result from demographic changes occurring in society. For example, in source countries the "babyboomer" population is ageing, which will increase leisure time amongst this group. However, the group may require ecotourism experiences that are less physically demanding, more easily accessible, and with more comfortable facilities.

In addition, various factors affect the types of ecotourism experiences sought. For example, substantial media attention has been focused on the loss of tropical rainforests, and many tourists wish to visit them partly out of a concern that they may be lost entirely. Future interest in forest visitation may depend on continued media coverage and public concern about forest issues.

Other trends, such as the increased popularity of SCUBA diving, may affect forest-related ecotourism to varying degrees, depending on individual site characteristics. For example, forest areas near dive sites may benefit from add-on trips to the forest by divers. On the other hand, some forest areas may lose visitation as potential visitors choose diving-oriented trips rather than terrestrial-oriented trips. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to identify future trends of this sort.

Several other factors, many of them external, may affect demand at individual sites and countries (Brandon 1996; Laarman and Durst 1993; Lindberg and Huber 1993). For example, political or economic instability may cause strong decreases in visitation, an event that has at times affected tourism demand for many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

In summary, historic data, trends, and expectations indicate that:

· tourism makes a substantial contribution to the region's economy;

· tourism has experienced rapid growth in the region (though less so in South Asia), and this growth is expected to continue;

· ecotourism in the region and globally has grown faster than tourism generally, and this probably will continue over the next several years;

· domestic and intraregional visitors are an important component of the region's ecotourism, and this importance is expected to increase in the future; and

· ecotourism demand will evolve over time, and the region's ecotourism sites will need to adapt to these changes.

3.4 The Dimensions of Ecotourism

Environmental Dimension
Experiential Dimension
Sociocultural Dimension
Economic Dimension

In order to provide background for Section 4 (ecotourism trends and options), this section describes the dimensions of ecotourism.

Environmental Dimension

By definition, the descriptive component of ecotourism involves the natural environment as an attraction. Conversely, the prescriptive component involves the impacts of visitation on the natural environment. Although most discussions of this dimension focus on negative impacts, ecotourism also can generate positive environmental impacts. For example, some tours involve cleaning trails or undertaking rehabilitation work. Also, ecotourism indirectly can generate positive impacts by increasing political and economic support for natural area conservation and management (Lindberg, Enriquez, and Sproule 1996).

Some argue that ecotourists are motivated to preserve the environment, so one would expect them to generate little or no negative environmental impact. However, as Wall (1994) pointed out:

· ecotourists often go to environmentally fragile areas, such as alpine and arid areas;

· visitation may occur during sensitive periods, such as during breeding or hatching periods;

· visitation by ecotourists eventually may lead to mass tourism at the site, such that the ultimate impact is much greater than the initial impact; and

· visitation may cause off-site impacts, such as the consumption of airplane fuel.

Despite the centrality of the environment to ecotourism, there is relatively little accumulated knowledge regarding ecotourism's impacts on the environment and the effect of these impacts on the ecotourist experience. In part, this is due to the complexity of these impacts, the difficulty of evaluating them rigorously, and the comparative lack of research in this area. Most of the analysis that has been undertaken has focused on North America or Europe and has appeared within the recreation or natural science literatures. Although several recent publications deal with tourism's environmental impacts (Buckley and Pannell 1990; Hunter and Green 1995; Mieczkowski 1995), there also is relevant literature from the recreation field (Hammitt and Cole 1987; Knight and Gutzwiller 1995).

Ecotourism's impacts often are categorized using groups like "direct" (effect or the visitors themselves) and "indirect" (effect of the infrastructure or activities necessary to provide the visitor experience) or "on-site" and "off-site". Using the latter groups, some on-site impacts include:

· soil erosion and compaction;
· disturbance of wildlife;
· trampling of vegetation;
· removal of vegetation (e.g., collection of plants or firewood);
· accidental introduction of exotic species;
· increased frequency of fire; and
· litter and vandalism.

Some off-site impacts include:

· reclamation of land for infrastructure (e.g., clearing of forests for hotels);
· generation of solid waste (e.g., rubbish/garbage);
· water and air pollution (e.g., effluent in rivers and oceans); and
· purchase of souvenirs utilizing threatened or endangered species (e.g., black coral).

Given that ecotourism can generate some negative environmental impacts, the critical questions become:

· What are the acceptable levels of these impacts?
· What is the relationship between use and level of impact?
· How is this relationship affected by management activities?

The question of acceptable levels is particularly thorny and has frustrated resource managers and other stakeholders for years. The answer is political rather than technical, and different stakeholders provide different answers.

The relationship between use and level of environmental change (i.e., the impact of ecotourism) is difficult to evaluate, in part because few environmental parameters are amenable to the requirements of experimental design needed to establish causal relationships. As a result, many studies are correlative rather than causal. The reliance on monitoring as a replacement for experimental analysis is an example of this problem. Monitoring can provide useful information, but one should be careful when inferring causality from monitoring studies due to the potential presence of confounding factors.

The research that has been conducted indicates that use-impact relationships generally are non-linear and vary across parameters. For example, the relationship between use and soil compaction may be different than the relationship between use and wildlife disturbance. Commonly, the relationship is asymptotic curvilinear, with marginal impacts at high use levels being small or non-existent (Hammitt and Cole 1987). That is, a medium number of visitors may cause significant change, but additional visitors may not cause significant additional change. Studies of recovery from impacts indicate that recovery occurs more slowly than the initial impact. Given such relationships, the common strategy of dispersion may be misguided, and concentration may cause less overall impact.

To further complicate matters, several factors may affect use-impact relationships, including:

· level of site hardening;
· types of visitors and their activities;
· characteristics of the organism impacted; and
· timing and location of interaction.

As discussed in Section 4, managers can reduce ecotourism impacts by managing visitor numbers and these other factors.

Experiential Dimension

Most of the attention within ecotourism, and within sustainable tourism generally, has been on environmental sustainability. However, tourism should be sustainable in other dimensions, including the experiential dimension. If the visitor experience is sufficiently degraded there will be a reduction in visitation that jeopardizes sustainability. Despite the relative inattention paid to experiential impacts within the ecotourism literature, they have been a focus within the recreation literature (Kearsley 1995; Manning 1986; Shelby and Heberlein 1986). For some sites, experiential impacts may be a greater limiting factor than environmental impacts (Worboys et al. 1995).

At the most basic level, managers should monitor the quality of the visitor experience to determine what can be done to address concerns and to improve experience quality. Often, experiential improvements focus on the addition (or removal) of specific infrastructure or programmes. However, the experience often depends on how visitors affect each other. Such experiential impacts can be grouped into three categories (Roggenbuck 1992:155):

· Crowding, in which the quality of the experience is reduced by visitor perceptions that they saw too many other people during their visit.

· Conflict, in which the quality of the experience is reduced by visitor perceptions of incompatibility or animosity with other visitors.

· Environmental degradation, in which the quality of the experience is reduced by visitor perceptions of environmental deterioration caused by other visitors.

These impacts, and the associated concept of satisfaction, often are complex, affected by a variety of factors, and can be difficult to measure accurately (Manning 1986; Ryan 1995). Satisfaction is particularly problematic because simplistic measurement of this concept is popular amongst natural area managers yet can provide misleading information. For example, high levels of reported satisfaction may lead managers to become complacent. However, current visitors may report satisfaction while nonetheless desiring improvement in facilities, activities, or conditions. In addition, previous visitors who were unsatisfied during their visit likely would not be represented in the sample of current visitors, as they would have stopped coming to the site, a process known as displacement in the recreation literature. Similarly, potential visitors may never have come to the site due to word-of-mouth or otherwise-obtained knowledge regarding the experience offered.

The concern over environmental degradation, resulting from tourism or other causes, and its effect on the visitor experience is widespread. It has been argued that environmental integrity must be preserved if the visitor experience is to be maintained, thereby providing an additional rationale for conservation. However, the extent to which visitor experiences are affected by environmental degradation has not been well researched, and the research that has been conducted suggests that visitors often do not notice tourism-related environmental degradation (Roggenbuck 1992; Shelby and Shindler 1992). This is an area that would particularly benefit from additional research.

Sociocultural Dimension

As with the natural environment, the sociocultural environment serves as both an ecotourism attraction and a recipient of ecotourism's impacts. If these impacts become, on the whole, too negative, the local sustainability of ecotourism can be jeopardized. In some areas local residents have been sufficiently unhappy with ecotourism development that they sabotaged the natural resource on which this development was based. Many ecotourism activities involve relatively intense interaction between greatly differing cultures, and these differences may exacerbate the negative sociocultural impacts of ecotourism.

The impacts of tourism on host communities, and resulting resident attitudes toward tourism, have been popular research topics in the past several years (e.g., Lankford and Howard 1994; Lindberg and Johnson 1997; Mercer 1994; Smith 1989). In addition, many policy makers are now becoming aware of the need 1) to incorporate local communities into the tourism development and natural area management process and 2) to understand and address the negative impacts on communities.

Though the difference between cultural and social impacts is blurry, one grouping might include the following as cultural impacts (Brandon 1996:17):

· commodification of culture, in which cultural symbols are treated as commodities to be bought and sold;

· changes in group social structure, the way in which lives are ordered and patterned;

· changes in cultural knowledge, the body of information possessed; and

· changes in the way in which cultural property is used and viewed.

The following grouping is of common social and sociophysical impacts. Depending on how tourism is developed, these impacts might on balance be positive or negative, and this balance may affect resident attitudes toward tourism (Lindberg and Johnson 1997):

· economic--tourism can generate a wide variety of economic benefits (such as jobs) and economic costs (such as inflation).

· disruption--tourism can generate an increase in traffic congestion, crowding in stores and other areas, and crime.

· recreation facilities--tourism can increase both the number of recreation facilities and the demand for such facilities (recreation is used broadly here to include outdoor recreation, urban entertainment, and related activities).

· aesthetic--tourism can contribute to an aesthetically pleasing environment, for example, by catalyzing waterfront revitalization; however, it can also detract from an aesthetically pleasing environment by, for example, leading to construction that is deemed inappropriate or by increasing the amount of litter or vandalism.

· interaction with non-residents--tourism can lead to satisfying relationships with non-residents, even if those relationships are brief.

· interaction with residents--tourism can affect local social relationships among residents, such as by reducing the friendliness of local residents.

· community/culture--because tourists often are motivated by the desire to experience the host community and its culture, tourism can affirm that culture and lead to community pride; it also can disrupt local cultures, particularly when international tourists visit remote areas with little historic foreign contact.

· influence over community decisions--studies have shown that residents are more supportive of tourism when they have been able to influence the tourism development process.

These impacts, and resulting attitudes, can strongly affect the viability of ecotourism. For example, commercial tourism activity in natural areas in Australia is undergoing a period of rapid expansion. In Victoria's Alpine National Park, the number of licenses granted to tourist operators has increased four-fold in the past five years to more than 110. This level of growth, and the perception that park policy now favours tourism interests over use by local residents, has resulted in antipathy toward tourism (McKercher 1996). This may lead to ecotourism becoming the next target for the national park movement, thereby jeopardizing access privileges to natural areas.

Economic Dimension

The final dimension is economic. There are various stakeholders in ecotourism, from operators to natural area managers to local communities. One thing they have in common is that they often seek economic benefits from ecotourism, whether it be sales and profits for operators, user fee revenues for natural area management, or jobs and income for local communities.

With respect to natural area finance, many public natural area systems around the world have encountered severe financial difficulties as the number of national parks and other areas has grown while funding has remained stable or declined (Eagles 1995; Reynolds 1995). As a result, many area managers and environmentalists have turned to ecotourism as a source of revenue, as a means to at least cover the ecotourism-related park costs that historically have been financed by governments.

There have been numerous studies of user fees in the ecotourism context (e.g., Laarman and Gregersen 1996; Lindberg and Enriquez 1994; Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996; Mak and Moncur 1995; Tisdell 1996). Though a full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, several points are worth noting (additional discussion is provided in Section 4). First, the appropriate fee system will depend on the objectives for the area. If the objective is to generate revenue, fees should be relatively high. If the objective is to maximize the number of visitors to provide job opportunities for local businesses, than the fees should be low or non-existent.

Second, there are strong economic reasons for charging user fees, including that ecotourism generates costs that would otherwise need to be financed by non-users (Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996; Yong 1996). In the case of developed country visitors to developing country public natural areas, it is particularly inappropriate for relatively poor local non-users to subsidize the visits of relatively wealthy users (Lindberg 1991).

Third, most analyses conclude that current fee levels at most sites could be increased with little or no impact on the number of visitors. In cases where fee increases would reduce the number of visitors, such increases may remain appropriate as a means to maximize total revenue and/or reduce negative environmental, experiential, or social impacts. Fourth, often, there are opportunities for increasing non-fee revenues, such as through donation programmes or through souvenir sales.

With respect to job creation, natural areas provide many benefits to society, but few are tangible. Ecotourism-related jobs are one of the most tangible benefits provided by these areas. In some cases, these jobs can provide direct alternatives to practices, such as poaching of forest products, that threaten natural area conservation. In other cases, the jobs will simply, but importantly, diversify local economies (Lindberg and Enriquez 1994). As ecotourism jobs increase, it is likely that support for the natural areas providing the jobs will increase (Han and Guo 1995; Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996). Conversely, if ecotourism is perceived to generate more costs (e.g., reduced access to the area and its resources) than benefits, it may reduce local support for natural areas.

The economic impacts of tourism, or any economic activity, can be grouped into three categories: direct, indirect, and induced. Direct impacts are those arising from the initial tourism spending, such as money spent at a restaurant. The restaurant buys goods and services (inputs) from other businesses, thereby generating indirect impacts. In addition, the restaurant employees spend part of their wages to buy various goods and services, thereby generating induced impacts. Of course, if the restaurant purchases the goods and services from outside the region, then the money provides no indirect impact to the region, it leaks away. Figure 3 illustrates some of these impacts and leakages.

Figure 3: Tourism's Economic Impact

Several studies have assessed the local employment benefits of ecotourism (Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996; Powell and Chalmers 1995; Shackley 1996). Not surprisingly, the level of benefits varies widely. In part, this is due to variations in the level of direct impact (tourist expenditure), which may depend on the quality of the attraction, access, and so on. In part, this is due to variations in the level of linkage (or, conversely, the level of leakage), which may depend on the size of the economy and other factors.3 The following estimates provide indications of the percentage of tourism spending leaking away from host country economies:

· 70% in Nepal
· 60% in Thailand
· 55 % for the typical developing country

3 There is often wide variation in leakage estimates across sites. This is partly a result of the type of tourism development and the size of the economy being evaluated. Small-scale nature tourism tends to use more local goods than does large-scale traditional tourism. However, smaller economies may have more leakages because a lower diversity of goods is produced in small economies than in large economies. Variation in leakage estimates may also be due to definitions and methods used.

More than 90% of tourism spending is thought to leak away from communities near most nature tourism sites (Lindberg, 1991; Brandon, 1996; see also Soemodinoto, Lubis, and Oktaviany 1996).

Though the high level of leakage should be considered and should be reduced where possible, one should remember that this leakage not only results from the nature of the tourism industry, which requires substantial expenditure before arrival on-site, but also from the nature of the remote communities where ecotourism occurs. Other economic activities in these communities probably also will exhibit high levels of leakage simply because the local economies are small and not very diverse. Moreover, though the number of jobs created will be low, in rural economies even a few jobs can make a big difference. Still, ecotourism benefits should not be oversold, or there may be a backlash as reality fails to live up to expectations.

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