The battle for nature lovers
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CTA. 2002. The battle for nature lovers. Spore 97. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46412
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore97.pdf
Ecotourism is booming. A growing number of the world s tourist hordes now seek leisure and diversion in nature, in solidarity with local people and without snapping a twig. If you and the local ecology are their destination, is it all as benign as...
Ecotourism is booming. A growing number of the world s tourist hordes now seek leisure and diversion in nature, in solidarity with local people and without snapping a twig. If you and the local ecology are their destination, is it all as benign as the ecotourists believe? Tramp the damp in Suriname s rainforests, dive with dolphins near Fijian shores, hang out in a Sahelian village: recreation like this is being marketed to trendy Western consumers as ecotourism. What lies behind the popularity of ecotourism, so rampant that the United Nations has designated the year 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE)? It obviously appeals to a broad range of stakeholders and interests, not least tour operators. The consensus is that it aims at conserving the environment, by experiencing and respecting natural and cultural diversity, and at the same time generating incomes. Rainforests are especially popular, deserts, islands and mountains too, but some way behind. With annual turnover growing by 15%, and revenues of t 16 billion in tropical designations alone, eco-tourism is the fastest growing segment of a leading world industry travel. The early small groups of adventurers and solidarity-driven backpackers have been quickly followed by more numerous, richer, better-prepared and over-equipped ecotourists. They represent not just a new market opportunity for the highly competitive travel trade, exemplified by one Cameroonian hotel remodelling its publicity and Website to become 'the ecotourists hotel' without changing its facilities. Development agencies and NGOs have embraced it too, as a poverty alleviating strategy for rural communities. Each tourist arrival could mean new jobs, extra income, improved infrastructure and a boost for sustainable management of natural resources. Paradise lost Less than 7% of ecotourism expenditure is retained as income by the local community; 93% goes in delivering the tourist to the destination, and this is in the hands of externally-operated airlines, travel agents, transit hotel chains, and insurance and transport companies. Little room is left for people-centred initiatives. In the 1990s the highlands of Papua New Guinea became a highly popular destination, but the sector is largely run by commercial tourist operators. A similar development with notable exceptions in Jamaica - took place throughout the Caribbean. In the Sahel and southern Africa, however, some operators have gone out of their way to involve local enterprises. At a preparatory meeting for IYE held in late 2001 in Mozambique, government delegates stressed the need to develop the sector for a non-destructive use of nature going hand in hand with rural development. The meeting called for an urgent review of land tenure systems for communal lands since existing nature reserves were demarcated in an era when tenure rights of local communities were not recognised. Another challenge is capacity building of local communities to become real stakeholders and not be squeezed out by commercial tourist agencies, and to be empowered to keep up with changes in demand and custom; there is no sector so fickle as tourism. A price for everything Among the many modest success stories throughout ACP countries is the Mount Cameroon Ecotourism Organisation (Mount-CEO), established in Buea Town in 1998. It is a multi-stakeholder structure, made up of local NGOs, village communities organised in currently 9 Village Ecotourism Committees (VECs), local and provincial tourist offices, hotel managers and a climber s union, with some support from the German agencies DED and GTZ. The programme originally targeted hunters, both to harness their skills and local knowledge and because they are a major threat to wildlife themselves. One dead elephant can, if left alive, attract hundreds of paying tourists. Under the Mount-CEO agreements, a tourist fee levied on all arrivals flows directly into village development funds. Local guides are paid directly by tourists, and additional income comes from such VEC activities as traditional cooking, songs and dances, handicrafts and hiring out camping equipment. Mount-CEO itself is responsible for marketing, staff training, organising tours, developing new tracks and coordinating the VECs. Several hundred tourists are now welcomed annually through Mount-CEO, with their presence supplementing agricultural incomes as well as increasing demand for agricultural produce. Can, could, every village welcome ecotourists? To a limited extent, if they want, yes, but the requisites are high in terms of infrastructure, capacity building and understanding a continuously changing consumer market. The numbers of tourists will have to be limited, partly because exclusivity is an asset, and partly not to disturb the environment. Ecotourism can certainly be an addition to agriculture, if investments benefit both sectors in harmony at the same time. And there lies an issue: one Spore correspondent in East Africa, when asked what was the greatest threat to a local ethno-veterinary project, replied 'ecotourists'. Clearly, nature is beautiful but ecotourism is not all roses. See Links, p. 10 [caption to illustration] Memories are made of this [caption to illustration] Go with the flow. Ecotourists have replaced loads of bananas in Trelawny, Jamaica.