Ecotourism is touted as a sustainable solution to preserving ecosystems and for providing a good source of income for local communities around the world. However, is ecotourism really as sustainable as claimed? In this article, we will discuss both the pros and cons of ecotourism, and then you can decide for yourself.
Pros of ecotourism
- If activities are managed sustainably, ecotourism can provide a sustainable source of income for local communities, and give incentives to protect the environment
The ecotourism industry can create new jobs, bring in substantial sources of revenue that can be used to help lift entire communities out of poverty, and can bring important technology and resources into struggling communities that can help achieve sustainable development objectives.
- Ecotourism gives people an opportunity to have a new experience with nature and learn more about environmental problems
Ecotourists may gain a greater respect for nature once they have experienced it up close and person. The adage, “What people don’t know about, they won’t care about” holds very true when it comes to the environment. What better way to learn about something than to experience it for yourself?
- Ecotourism may lead to further research opportunities and better management practices as more people experience nature up close and become passionate about protecting it
Cons of ecotourism
- Too many people may come into a particular ecosystem, disturb the organisms that live there, and cause destruction to their habitat
In some cases, habitat can be “loved to death,” where ecotourists may unsustainably harvest things for souvenirs, disturb wildlife and other organisms, and trample on plants, and compact the soil during their tourist activities.
- Encroachment and development is more likely to occur in the areas surrounding the visited areas
This can lead to habitat fragmentation and habitat loss for species that depend on large expanses of undisturbed habitat. Noise, light pollution, the building of roads, and many other types of activities can also lead to habitat and wildlife disturbances.
- Ecotourism activities could be problematic for communities if the local people are not onboard and activities aren’t locally managed
This situation could occur if an outside ecotourism company seeks to develop such activities without the permission and acceptance of the local people. This could lead to conflicts between members of the ecotourism industry and local people, and is decidedly not a desirable outcome.
For such efforts to be truly successful, ecotourism must fully involve local communities in planning, implementation, and the management of whatever is built there.
- Increased human-wildlife conflicts with tourists and the tourism industry
As humans encroach more and more on habitat (even if the intentions are benign), there may be an increase in human-wildlife conflict, especially when habitat becomes fragmented or wildlife wanders into nearby human infrastructure looking for food. Animals may also be more likely to be hit by automobiles in developed areas.
- Wildlife may become too accustomed to humans
When animals become accustomed to people, they may become more vulnerable to poaching or to becoming dependent on humans for food.
- Wildlife may become stressed from human activity in their habitat
For some species, simply the nearby presence of human beings may negatively impact their reproduction, migration, and other natural behaviors.
- Accidental importation of invasive species into previously pristine areas
- The potential of degeneration of ecosystems and the daily lives of indigenous people
In addition to the potential for disturbing and degrading ecosystems due to high traffic, the daily lives of indigenous people may be negatively impacted. For instance, they might decide to give up their traditional livelihoods and instead decide to become tour guides.
The bottom line with ecotourism is that no matter the intentions, there will always be some sort of impact on ecosystems and local people. It takes intentions of wise planning, proper scientific ecological assessment and management, and sustainable and democratic involvement of the local people to make ecotourism activities truly sustainable.
It is also important to remember, as potential ecotourists ourselves, we must be responsible, doing whatever we can to have a positive impact on the environments and peoples wherever we travel. This requires consideration of all aspect of our travel, including the environmental footprint of whatever mode of transit we use to get from place to place.