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Is ecotourism an effective developmental tool/ strategy for underdeveloped rural areas? Why?

Why not?
{Introduction paragraph begins}
In her book: Ecotourism and Sustainable Development, Martha Honey, defined
ecotourism using 7 characteristics. 1) Involves travel to natural destinations 2) minimizes impact
3) builds environmental awareness 4) provides direct financial benefits for conservation 5)
provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people 6) respects local culture 7)
supports human rights and democratic movements.
In our opinion, if ecotourism industry in an area meets those 7 characteristics, then
perhaps one can say that ecotourism is an effective developmental tool for underdeveloped rural
area. However, in this paper we discuss the side effects of ecotourism industry in Hawaii and
argue its effectiveness as a developmental tool.
{Introduction paragraph ends}
2. Ecotourism minimizes impact
Ecotourism verses tourism that causes damage to the environment, should strive to
minimize the adverse affects of hotels, trails, and other infrastructure by using environmental
friendly material, proper recycling, garbage collection and disposal and use of renewable energy
sources. In addition to that, the behaviour and attitude of tourists also plays an important role in
minimizing the impact on the environment.
Ecotourism is not a pollution free industry. Although the goal is conservation and
minimizing the impact, ecotourism at its heart is an instigator of change. It is inevitable that the
introduction of tourists to areas that were previously seldom visited by outsiders will place new
demands upon the environment associated with new actors, new activities, and new facilities.
(Geoffrey Wall) Then how can it be called preservation, while it is calling for change!
According to the documentary Human Geography: People, Place and Change in
Hawaii the tourism industry is now nearly 100 years old. In 1901, when Moana hotel was
established, it was the one and only tourist accommodation on the island. During 1930s when

radio show called Hawaii Calls was able to successfully market Hawaii as a tropical paradise
and a fantastic tourism destination, waves of tourist began travelling to Hawaii. Today, over 7
million tourists travel to Hawaii annually. To meet the demand of these tourists, large resorts and
skyscraper hotels were built along the shores on the island. In his book Tourism Geography
Stephen Williams discusses effects of trampling at tourism sites. Trampling causes removal of
source vegetation, soil becomes compacted, which increases run-ff, soil damage and new
colonisation by hardier species, this reduces diversity in species and causes soil erosion. The
result is gully forming and large-scale destruction of surface and ecological balance is seriously
affected hence, causing collapse of local ecosystem.
One study showed that approximately, 85% of tourists who visit Hawaii use the near
shore resources. To accommodate the 6 million visitors a year that use marine resources, over
1000 ocean recreation companies has been established. The impact from overuse has generated
increasing concerns about sustainability and carrying capacities within the industry. In the study,
coral transplantation was used to evaluate the response of corals to trampling by determining
growth and mortality at sites that ranged along a gradient of human use. A clear progression of
coral survivorship along the gradient was evident. Survivorship dropped from 70% at the low
impact site to 55% at the medium impact site. Total loss (0% survivorship) was reported from the
high impact site after only 8 months, equivalent to less than 200,000 total visitors or 63 people in
the water per hours. (Effect on Corals quote)
One might wonder if the average ecotourist is more demanding environmentally than the
mass tourist who may not need to visit endangered species in remote locations, and whose needs
and wastes can be more readily planned for and managed in large numbers incorporating
economies of scale. (Geofrrey Wall).
3. Ecotourism builds environmental awareness
One of the goals of ecotourism is environmental education, to educate tourists about
sensitive and endangered species in the hope that this education will create awareness and help to
preserve the environment. In discussing this point there are several questions that need to be
addressed: Who are ecotourists? Do people generally like to learn while they are on vacation?

How much do they actually learn about wildlife through their ecotourism experience? What does
the learning translate into?
According to Pam Wight, ecotourism market is not a homogenous market. And it cannot
be assumed that all tourists are interested in wildlife and environment. The age range of
ecotourists is between 18 to 64 years. There is a great variation in the activities, motivations and
characteristics of ecoutourists. The younger age group (18-30 year-old) which constitute 21% of
the ecotourists tend to look for the thrill. The older age group (55-64 year-old) are 14% of the
total ecotourist population which tend to have an interest in the environment. The middle ages
(30-54 year-old) that are 65% of the total tend to want to get away from it all. So when majority
of ecotourists travel to a destination with the motivate to get away from their routine life, then
the questions becomes how willing are they to learn about the environment while they are on
vacation?!
Now, even if we assume that every traveller that takes part in an ecotourism experience is
willing and interested to learn about the environment, the question is how much do they actually
learn and what is the quality of the educators on tours? In a study by Michael Luck a group of
ecotourists were asked to rate their learning experience on a tour. Only 5% of participants
indicated that they have learned a lot from the tour.
(table 1 page 8)
Table 1
Educational aspects on dolphin tours
Strongly
agree (%)
Mildly
agree(%)
Mildly
disagree (%)
Strongly
disagree (%)
Mean SD
The dolphin tour was an
educational experience
29.6 47.1 18.5 4.8 1.98 0.82
I have the feeling that on
this tour I learned a lot
about dolphins
17.6 45.7 29.4 7.3 2.26 0.83
I have the feeling that on
this tour I learned a lot
about other marine life
5.2 16.4 44.7 33.7 3.07 0.84
The dolphin tour staf
had good knowledge
about dolphins
69.3 27.1 3.2 0.4 1.35 0.56

Note: 1=strongly agree; 2=mildly agree; 3=mildly disagree; 4=strongly disagree.

Services related to learning and cultures, guides, and interpretative education


programmes, knowledgeable guides and good education programmes or interpretive materials
are critical in order for ecotourism to be an effective educational tool.
Lets suppose that ecotourism is a great way to education people about the environment
and that all ecotourists learn a lot from their adventure. Now the question becomes what does
that learning translate into? What actions take place as a result of that learning experience? What
actions take place to preserve the environment?
An interpretation programme should offer a variety of interesting questions, so that
participants become curious and develop a cognitive dissonance between the
questions and their knowledge. With stories about the animals encountered, for
example, marine mammals, the affective domain shall be addressed through the involvement of
participants emotions. A state of cognitive dissonance is meant to
motivate and provide an incentive to act. Orams suggests that the interpreter should
address specific environmental problems and issues, and offer solutions for each
participant to act.
Fig2 page 5
Ideally, participants are given concrete opportunities to act during the experience,
such as petitions to sign, signing up for membership of an environmental
organisation, or products to purchase that support environmental research. Orams
stresses the importance of this stage, because tourists are highly motivated after the
experience and more likely to act than they would be once they are back at home.