One common definition of Ecotourism is, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” The Ecotourism Society defines it as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people”. In general, Ecotourism aims to strike a balance between conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. Ecotourism emerged in the 1990s and has grown at a very rapid pace into a multi-billion dollar industry. And as this has occurred, a debate has emerged regarding the benefits and costs regarding ecotourism. The sub-debates centering around whether ecotourism benefits the environment, cultural understanding, local populations, and democratic and societal development. The pro and con arguments are considered below.
Humans are part of nature, and their impact on nature is part of the World’s natural processes. This doesn’t mean that humans should be wanton about their impact on nature. It simply means that to consider all human impact on the environment as bad is to miss the fact that we are part of the environment.
There are certainly some negative impacts from eco-tourism. What is important is to recognize that they are and can continue to be limited to a tolerable level, given the benefits.
Landowners, in third world countries in particular, are often faced with the question of how to make their lands profitable. They have many choices, but many often conclude that exploitation, such as clear-cutting, is the only course of action. Eco-tourism offers landowners an alternative to exploitation that will still allow them to profit from their land, and more sustainably.
Environmental conservation is achieved through popular support and pressure. This requires that individuals believe passionately in conservation ethics. Ecotourism helps cultivate this ethic by exposing people to the preciousness of the thing that they should help protect.
The profits from many ecotourism businesses can be used to expand conservation efforts. Some Ecotourism businesses realize that having a policy to donate a portion of their profits to environmental conservation efforts actually attracts more consumers for greater profits and environmental aid.
Tourism is going to happen whether we like it or not. Ecotourism helps better manage and direct the tourism industry on a more environmentally friendly course.
No matter how careful humans are, if they descend on an area to tour it, they will degrade that ecosystem. Therefore, encouraging ecotourism encourages environmental degradation.
Wildlife is often disturbed by ecotourists. Polar bears, for example, are supposed to sleep through much of the winter months to conserve energy and avoid burning needed fat. Ecotourists that attempt to observe these bears by vehicle put them on “alert” and cause them to burn much of this needed energy and fat.
Even ecotourists will inevitably deposit trash, trample on some plants, and even bring certain damaging microbes to a habitat that are capable of having devastating effects. Even electric wires that will presumably be used to supply energy to expanding ecotourism camps are capable of having negative environmental effects.
The tourism industry realizes that its consumers like to see that their tours are environmentally friendly, at least in name. Indeed, the problem is that most “ecotourism” is in name only. Consumers seem willing to accept the title of “ecotourism” without scrutinizing the impact of their tours. “Ecotourism”, for example, is sometimes used by tourism companies to describe a drive through the wilderness. Therefore, the term “ecotourism” is being abused by companies to give a false impression of what is “green”.
The ecotourism industry is growing incredibly quickly, with annual revenue growth in the double digits. This means that more people are going on tours into habitats. Yet, the more people that go on eco-tours, the more environmental damage will be incurred. Therefore, the irony of ecotourism is that its success entails the failure of it environmental mission.
A big part of Ecotourism’s mission is to reveal cultures and build respect and understanding. This is good, irrespective of the environmental issues, and helps build a more compassionate, cohesive world
The commercialization of cultures through tourism does not preserve cultures. Rather, it makes a show of them. This damages the authenticity of cultures, by placing a price-tag on them.