As a socially responsible person, you probably want to make the world a little better. Even when you travel, you might try to visit undeveloped areas where your tourism dollars can help a local economy thrive. You might even contribute your time to the community as a volunteer. Ecotourism's idealistic goal is to improve the world through responsible travel; while its effects will probably never match its ideals, travelers can offer very real benefits to local communities.
Ecotourism's primary aim is to counteract the negative effects of human development. People who live in cities often choose to visit pristine jungles, mountains and beaches to enjoy their beauty. As local communities begin to see their natural resources as sources of tourist income, the communities may work harder to protect those resources. In many cases, locals find work as tour guides and discover that their jobs depend on local conservation efforts. (See References 1)
As ecotourism in an area grows, the local government often recognizes the economic boom and seeks to maintain it. In Costa Rica, ecotourism's popularity led to the creation of several national parks and reserves, which established a protected wildlife corridor (see References 1). In turn, governments must have the funds to maintain their parks and keep hunters, poachers and loggers out of them. In Madagascar, poor infrastructure, government instability and the local communities' need for the food and lumber inside the Masoala National Park's borders have limited the park's success (see References 2).
Aside from tour guides, a range of local businesses benefit from ecotourism. Craftspeople, innkeepers and restaurateurs all provide services that help tourists discover local features. A 2003 study of Costa Rican communities found that once ecotourism has boosted an economy, people stop cutting trees because they are simply too busy. The same study, however, found that such a behavioral change didn't necessarily indicate greater environmental awareness. Once the local economy experiences some success, development starts to threaten natural resources (see References 3 and 4).
The same Costa Rican study found that people with more education were less likely to be environmentally destructive. In fact, education and awareness may be the true benefits of ecotourism and provide the most lasting effect. Ecotourists meeting people who live more closely with nature may learn to live more simply themselves. Meanwhile, locals gain the funds and the ability to pursue more education of their own, giving them a better understanding of world issues like environmentalism. Through cultural exchange, both parties stand to benefit (see References 1 and 4).
- Untamed Path: Benefits of Ecotourism
- "Journal of Sustainable Tourism"; Ecotourism Benefits and the Role of Local Guides at Masoala National Park, Madagascar; A. Ormsby and K. Mannle; 2006
- International Ecotourism Society: 2007 Oslo Statement on Ecotourism
- "Society and Natural Resources"; Community Participation in Ecotourism Benefits; Caroline J. Stem et al.; 2003
An award-winning blogger, Jessica Blue has been promoting sustainability, natural health and a do-it-yourself attitude since graduating University of California, Berkeley in 2000. Her work, seen in a wide variety of publications, advocates an environmentally-responsible and healthy lifestyle.
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