Principles of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is an environmentally stable form of nature-based tourism, which is primarily focused on life in the wilderness and learning the environment. It is organized in accordance with the ethical standards so as to minimize the impact on the nature, consumption, and costs, and focused on the local level (with control perspective, the benefits and scope). Normally, this form of tourism is developed in the protected territories and is intended for contributing to their conservation. It is generally accepted among the majority of nations that approximately 8 to 10% of their land area is to be preserved for maintenance of their native habitat (Ballantyne & Packer, 2013). The major function of this policy is ensuring that the historic environment in the country is protected as part of its heritage, and a variety of flora and fauna within the state is stored. It is assumed that these conserved regions may function without undue human interventions. However, ecotourism can promote not only the conservation and development of nature; it also includes positive synergistic relationship between tourism, biodiversity, and the local population, which is supported with the appropriate organization and management of these activities. Ecotourism occurs in relatively undisturbed natural areas and does not lead to the destruction of the environment and deterioration of its quality. In opposite, it contributes directly to the protection and management of the used natural areas. Ecotourism should be a subject of adequate and competent management. Thus, the sphere includes three key criteria.
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The main destinations attractive for tourists are primarily natural (characterized with specific flora, fauna or geological features). The next important component is a feature of the cultural environment; the emphasis is put on the study and understanding of the resources themselves, and the activities of tourists and other participants have a mild effect on the physical and cultural environment in the visited region. Eco-tourism should be linked with the concept of sustainable tourism, without exceeding the recreational capacity of the visited areas by being acceptable to local communities and supporting them. Sustainability in this sphere implies a positive overall balance of the environmental, socio-cultural and economic impacts of tourism, as well as the positive influence of visitors on each other. Thus, those types of tourism activities that have the highest positive summary effect in terms of environmental, economic and social development can be considered more stable. Ecotourism is an important component of the sustainable development of natural areas. It is easy to determine that the basis of most definitions of ecotourism are aimed at achieving sustainability or are the means of achieving this goal, whether it is minimizing the negative impacts on the natural and cultural environment, strengthening of economic returns for the benefit of nature protection or environmental education.
Obviously, such travel, in which only a few principles of ecotourism are carried out, cannot be considered ecotourism. The direct result of ecotourism is not an improvement and the protection of the environment. This paper will examine the four ecotourism destinations – Kangaroo Island in Australia, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Penang National Park in Malaysia, and Costa Rica, which present the perfect examples of proper compliance with the conditions of eco-travelling, and evaluate on these instances whether ecotourism can be considered sustainable with regards of its environmental, social, and economic aspects.
The modern concept of ecotourism can be narrowed to a set of principles applicable to all types of tourism related to nature.
The basic principles of ecotourism include:
- Travelling in nature. The main purpose of such trips is acquaintance with wildlife, as well as local customs and culture;
- Minimizing the negative environmental and socio-cultural effects; maintenance of ecological sustainability of the nature;
- Promoting conservation of nature and local socio-cultural environment;
- Environmental education;
- The participation of local residents and opportunity for them to receive income from tourism. It is creating for them the economic incentives for conservation;
- Cost-effectiveness and contribution to sustainable development of the visited regions (Ballantyne & Packer, 2013).
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Demand on Ecotourism, Trends in Its Global Growth and Likely Impacts upon the Future Development of the Industry
Increased demand for ecotourism is defined with the general growth of the number of tourists, an increasing popularity of the trips to special destinations, and rising of public awareness of environmental conservation. Another important trend which underlies the demand for ecotourism is the fact that the industrialized countries of the West have reached a point where the driving force of economic growth is not the desire of people to consume more goods, but their aspiration to real impressions and experiences (Cater, 1997). Recently, tourists from developed countries are increasingly looking for this form of travelling, which would contribute to their personal growth and enrichment of their knowledge of nature and human. Another important trend in the global growth of ecotourism is an increase of caring about health and maintaining physical fitness that resulted in active recreation in the open air becoming fashionable. This trend coincided in time with the saturation of the market with the traditional beach-resort areas (Chen, 2015). Thus, tour operators began to offer their customers new, exotic destinations and forms of recreation.
Preservation of ethnic rural landscapes is directly linked with the development of landscape tourism. At present, this factor becomes the only real brake on industrial expansion in many regions. The development of ecotourism becomes an additional (or sometimes – major) means of economic revitalization of depressed areas. The tendency of attraction the travelers to the best preserved natural landscapes is accompanied with changes in tourist specialization, development of the infrastructure of tourist zones, the creation of a network of national parks and game farms, introduction of special conservation regime of exploitation of forests.
Unique Tourism Supply
Kangaroo Island in Australia
Kangaroo Island is situated on the southern Australian coast. The island is considered a classic example of tourism development involving local community and ecologists of the wild nature. Its natural resources were designed as tourist products in many ways. The market of the island changes constantly in order to improve access from the mainland of South Australia, ensure more foreign arrivals and a significant number of daily visitors. The destination is developing through the introduction of the innovative mode of planning and management of health, tourism industry, and resources of Kangaroo Island.
Kangaroo Island is situated nearly ten miles away from the coast of Southern Australia. It offers for tourists to spend time in a rural location of pristine wilderness. Twenty four national parks or nature reserves embrace about a third of Kangaroo Island territory. The remaining part of the island is covered with well-watered woods and agricultural lands. The primary reason why people come to Kangaroo Island is to have an opportunity to see rare wild animals, national parks and the island itself (Moore, 2009).
Neighboring Brownlow Beach offers diving, yachting sports and sea fishing from the pier. The main attractive point for tourists is kangaroos which come out to graze at sunset. One is able to observe most of them from a distance. Other rare animals still survive on the island. In addition, to the west along the south coast beaches there is a pretty Vivonne Bay, beach with pure white sand, known as the Little Sahara. Kangaroo Island also has Kelly Hill Conservation Park, which is famous for its limestone caves. It can be concluded that Kangaroo Island is a little business owned and operated by local naturalist experts.
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates
The government of Dubai is committed to the preservation of the ecosystem of the emirate. Within the new strategic development plan of Dubai, a special attention is paid to ecotourism, which will contribute to the conservation of nature, the Islamic cultural heritage, and local traditions. In 2003, the government adopted a policy of the development of ecotourism and has signed a number of legal acts, directing the activities of the country in this way. In this region, which has both desert and water ecosystem, there is plenty of opportunities to explore the local nature and fauna. The main focus of ecotourism activities was put on the creation of nature reserves and opening them for visitors. The biggest of them is called Ras Al Khor and covers six square kilometers. There one can admire a local flora and fauna, watch birds and enjoy the wonderful view from the high towers for bird watchers, two of which have been specially created for tourists. Besides, one of the best places for observing the nature is Dubai desert reserve which is called Al Maha Desert Resort. Al Maha has been designed with the key principles of eco-tourism in the framework of consolidation of its commercial success. In total, eco-zones in Dubai, including reserves, cover more than three hundred million square kilometers. They present eighty eight species of birds, three hundred and thirteen of fauna, and amazingly beautiful nature. However, eco-tourism in Dubai is not limited to the reserves and green areas. Those tourists who are interested can visit the desert for safari to observe rare Arabian Oryx. One can also fly over it in a balloon or take an off-road car tour. In addition, travelers can go to a pilgrimage to the mountain springs and use other opportunities. Moreover, Dubai officially announced the establishment of six new nature reserves in order to preserve the environment and promote ecotourism. These new measures will positively affect the nature. Creating of reserves will help to ensure the environmental safety of Dubai in the future and will have a significant impact on the development of ecotourism in the emirate.
Penang National Park in Malaysia
Penang National Park is the smallest of the national parks of Malaysia, which covers an area of two thousand five hundred sixty two hectares. Despite this, these park is the only one reserved territory in Malaysia, where one can found six different ecosystems: the seasonal lake, wetlands, mangroves, watts (coastal strip, drying during low tides), coral reefs and sandy beaches. There are about a thousand species of plants, one hundred forty three species of animals and forty six species of birds (Kaffashi et al., 2005). From April to August, green turtles and olive sea turtles swim to the beaches of the park to lay their eggs.
This reserve, which lies on the northern tip of Penang Island at the end of the famous Jalan Batu Ferringhi over fishing village Kuala Bahang, offers visitors several hiking trails. National Park gives great opportunities for recreation and ecotourism, including climbing, hiking, swimming, wildlife watching or simply enjoying the unique natural environment.
Local people are involved in touristic activities, too. Fishermen offer a ride on the boat and cooking dinner on the grill. Several companies of Penang organize regular trips to the park trails. A favorite place of tourists is a wide bay Teluk Duyung, which is also nicknamed Monkey Beach because of the large flocks of these animals that live here. In the district of the beach, there is a meromictic lake Pantai Kerachut. There are only several such lakes in the world. Water is clearly stratified in them: the upper layer of fresh water is fed from the 5 surrounding creeks and always stays cool; the bottom layer of salt water is fed from the sea and always keeps warm. In addition, tourists are offered to pass the suspended trail (Canopy Walkway). It is the shortest route connecting the two main trails of the national park. It is hovering at a height of fifteen m above the ground. The interesting fact which motivates tourists to see it is that it was built on the trees using ropes without a single nail, screw or bolt (Kaffashi et al., 2005).
Costa Rica is Mecca of ecotourism. This is one of the few countries in Latin America, which made a bid for ecotourism. Forests and all animals are protected by law. Perhaps, it is the only country where any hunting is prohibited. And it gives the results: there is a large number of animals and they allow tourists to come close to them. The diversity of the country’s flora and fauna attracts tourists here. Seventy of a hundred per cent of the Earth’s plants are available in Costa Rica (Dasenbrock, 2002).
In addition to the parks and reserves, tourists can visit one hundred and twenty active volcanoes. Seventy of them are acting. Arenal Volcano is acknowledged the most active. Here are also situated numerous hot springs, which attract tourists from all over the world. It is the perfect place to relax and unwind being surrounded by wonderful nature. In 1964, world-famous park of cypress sculpture of Evangelist Blanco Brenes appeared in Zarkero (Dasenbrock, 2002). He has been working on the maintenance of the ideal state of his masterpieces for 37 years.
In Costa Rica, there are twenty four magnificent national parks, thus, it can be considered as the concentration of the world of ecotourism. Here, on a fair distance from each other, is a large number of ecologic houses. Many of them, in addition to standard tours, offer special programs of yoga and wellness treatments. These parks are supposedly the most prominent representatives of the natural diversity on earth. Tortuguero National Park is a complex system of canals and mangroves and is a haven for the four species of turtles, which chose this place for the annual egg-laying and are close to extinction. Santa Rosa National Park is very different from others since it is very dry in summer and very windy in winter here; this area is blown with severe winds “Papagayo”. It is the largest protected land of dry forest in Central America. Here, the extraordinary beauty of the flowers and heavenly beaches is presented (Dasenbrock, 2002).
Sustainable Tourism Principles
Sustainable tourism meets the needs of today’s travelers and the local population and, at the same time, preserves and increases the possibilities for the future. This notion involves the ability to create long-term conditions for the proper development of both tourism and conservation of natural resources, social and cultural values of society. However, its goal is to achieve higher standards of living for the native population through economic growth and conservation of environmental benefits and natural capital for future generations. This approach fits into the global tourism trends, determining the formation of a new tourist brand, which involves the situation when the high preservation of natural and cultural complexes is a prerequisite for sustainable development. Sustainable tourism is the youngest concept of environmentally friendly tourism. It is essentially a particular application of the concept of sustainable development which implies the integration of social, economic and environmental aspects in decision-making and action. The concept of sustainable development has become the central idea of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and has been recognized as an effective model for the development by an absolute majority of the countries whose representatives signed a number of international documents directly related to the practical implementation of the concept of sustainable development (Marzouky, Froger & Ballet, 2012).
The ten principles of sustainable tourism adopted by the Swedish Agency for Environmental Protection can help to understand better the essence of sustainable tourism concept:
- Inexhaustible, sustainable use of natural resources;
- Reducing excessive consumption and waste;
- Ensuring the preservation of natural, social and cultural diversity;
- Careful planning, an integrated approach, the integration of eco-tourism into regional development plans;
- Support for local economies;
- Participation of local populations in tourism development and sharing of financial and other benefits from such activities;
- Consulting stakeholders and the public;
- Training of staff;
- Responsible tourism marketing.
- Thus, one can say that ecotourism is at the crossing of nature-friendly and sustainable tourism (Higginbottom, 2004).
Assessment on the Sustainability of Ecotourism in Terms of Environmental, Social, and Economic Aspects
Economic Aspect of Ecotourism
Charging fees on visitors is a method of capturing income that may be sent back to realization of environmental objectives.
Visitor fees include park admission tickets and excursions fees on users of the district of or object. Sales and royalties are fees charged as a percentage of earnings received from using the activities or products on the site, such as crafts, souvenirs, photos and greeting cards and others. Taxation is an additional cost of products and services bought by tourists.
Thus, the power supply inputs and other charges are added to the income of local labor and their total is added to the local tourism industry and estimated to be at least $ 1.5 to $ 2.0 million a year (Moore, 2009).
Tourism is now the fastest growing sector of the economy of Dubai. It has become possible due to constantly increasing number of tourists. About 3.6 million people visited Dubai in 2003; more than seven million came in 2007. In 2008, Dubai received about 6.5 million visitors, which contributed to getting $ 3.5 billion for the local economy. Dubai is one of the few international destinations, which see an increase in the number of visitors compared to previous year, successfully maintaining its position as a world-class tourism center. Despite the complex economic climate, the number of visitors of Dubai has reached an unprecedented level of 11,996,449 in 2014, although the growth rate slowed (Hazbun, 2008).
Penang National Park
In cases where ecotourism is originally not a highly profitable enterprise on the local level, some states often stimulate its development through subsidies, taxes and other incentives since indirect benefits on the regional and national levels, makes its development preferable. That is the way Malaysia acts in order to maintain the growth of ecotourism in
Penang National Park.
Its socio-economic importance reaches the highest level primarily on the local and regional level since it provides jobs to the local population and revenue to the local economy.
Among the channels and forms of financial flows the most common are:
- Allocation of tourism revenues to the local budget and special funds as compensation for the exploitation of natural resources;
- The fee for the transfer of rights of use from local governments to nonresident travel agencies (rent, and other);
- Providing a preliminary service for travel agencies (such as the supply of food, construction materials, handicrafts, and other);
- Employment (professional employees of travel agencies) (Kaffashi et al., 2005).
The dynamic development of ecotourism brings the state large revenues. Nowadays, it is a major source of Costa Rica’s income. Ecotourism is especially popular among wealthy citizens of the USA and Canada. Since Costa Rica has no army, which in other countries is a significant part of public funding, its government has invested in the protection of a large part of the jungle and the other forests. Meanwhile the nearest neighbors of Costa Rica – Panama and Nicaragua – have sold their timber to the United States, Costa Rica nationalized nearly 25% of the territory, maintaining and ensuring the future of one of the most biologically diverse environments on the planet. Years of political stability and the success of the democratic process also served as the promotion of Costa Rica as the best country for tourism in the region of Central and South America. Now, ecotourism is overtaking coffee and banana business and plays a dominant role in the economy, bringing about $2 billion a year (Zambrano, Broadbent & Durham, 2010).
Social Aspect of Ecotourism
The local people make a profit from tourism activities, such as the restaurants, souvenirs, transport, local guides, and other. In the Kangaroo Island, ferry services are operated by the local people. Kangaroo Island Regional Transport Strategy Report emphasizes that the majority of visitors travel to Kangaroo Island on the ferry (92%) and approximately 15% of the revenue is gotten from the Sea Link’s revenue from cargoes.
In connection with the tourism, the local community receives more profit from the availability of labor, equipment and resources to provide assistance in the management of fire and economy, the use of infrastructure and services provided because of tourism and local employment opportunities (Moore, 2009).
The positive impact of ecotourism in Dubai is based on changing the behavior of tourists and representatives of the tourism industry by increasing their level of environmental education, the use of the impact tools (environmental PR, branding strategy, and others), environmental education of the local population, developing a culture of dialogue between people of different social strata, the formation of respect for the local people, creating a culture of environmental recreation (Hazbun, 2008).
Penang National Park
Today, life on the island is in full swing mainly due to the development of tourism. There are many night clubs and places of entertainment, the streets abound with restaurants, shops, markets and night bazaars. Ecotourism provides a source of income for local communities, for example, it concerns the food services, services of hotel accommodation, work of guides and sale of handicrafts, which cause less environmental damage than other sources of income, such as slash-and-burn agriculture, extractive industries and industries that pollute environment (Kaffashi et al., 2005).
A local community is actively involved in ecotourism. People own eco-hotels and restaurants for tourists. Developing of ecotourism created proper environmental behavior among Costa Ricans. They honor all the animals in the jungle and are proud of the abundance of birds in the woods. Every Costa Rican, even a teenager, is well-versed in plants and working in the garden. Even residents of large cities are working in the gardens and cultivating ecological products. Any tourist can enjoy an abundance of fruits and vegetables in the backyard of a city dweller (Gale & Hill, 2012).
Environmental Aspect of Ecotourism
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Kangaroo Island has been saved as eco land for centuries. There is an amazing variety and abundance of birds on Kangaroo Island. The state provides policies including plans for ecotourism in order to maintain the sustainable development strategy. These policies are dealing with the positive and negative impacts of tourism and making sure that this industry helps to protect areas. Such model is applied to the island managing and positioning it as relatively unchanged rural and natural landscapes, rich and highly visible wildlife, safe, clean, and healthy environment, and strong sense of community and unity to the land and its heritage in order to save the environment (Moore, 2009).
The entire infrastructure is used for access to the natural objects, like the desert, Wild Wadi, a zoo, Al Maha Desert. The natural life of Dubai consists of desert and animals. Their protection is important so they will not be endangered or extinct. Hunting these species is not allowed due to development of ecotourism. However, the growing demand for tourism is a major threat to land and other resources in the country. Building in the desert will affect the habitat of many species, and their existence would be affected. Air pollution, whether dust, debris or the sound of tourists, will also show the failure of the local tourism council to prevent the negative impacts of tourism (Green & Higginbottom, 2001). If the beaches and deserts are contaminated it will lead to the development of the hatred of the local population and conflicts will occur.
Penang National Park
Unfortunately, ecotourism does not quite live up to the ideals of preservation. Ecotourism is a highly consuming activity. Although it is proper for small groups, even slightly population growth leads to additional pressure on the local environment and creates a need to develop additional infrastructure and facilities. Due to the construction of sewage treatment plants, sewage systems, and using of non-renewable sources of energy the already limited local resources are used more actively (Kaffashi et al., 2005).
Ecotourism provides a direct source of income for conservation of protected areas. Costa Rica, perhaps, is one of the countries in which ecotourism contributes to the preservation of the environment. If selected by the government of Costa Rica ecotourism course would continue to develop and bring considerable income to the country. The principles of conservation of environment always bring revenue to the state that seeks to live in harmony with nature (Henly, 2011).
At the junction of the most important environmental, economic, and social problems of our time, the concept of ecotourism appears as one of the most important means of sustainable development of natural areas. Today, ecotourism is a comprehensive interdisciplinary direction ensuring the relationship of the interests of tourism, environmental protection and culture.
Ecotourism has become popular as the form of tourism, which focuses solely on the wild or “exotic” cultures. Some examples show that such tourism can actually benefit native communities. Kangaroo Island in Australia, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Penang National Park in Malaysia, and Costa Rica are ones of the most popular ecotourism destinations in the world. Examining these examples in terms of environmental, social, and economic aspects, one can conclude that ecotourism creates a firm base for the sustainable development of environmental activities. It also can strongly contribute to economy of the country as well as ensure a more complete awareness of visitors and host communities in regard to the quality of the environment and its social, cultural and economic impact, which should lead to increased interest and support provided. Thus, ecotourism destinations under consideration reveal the progressive power of ecotourism and show that these touristic directions can be confidently considered sustainable and must develop all over the world.