What is Ecotourism

“Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural and cultural areas, which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people. “

Chandra de Silva
Founder President- Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka (ESSL)
Board Member – The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) Washington DC.
Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Director/CEO – Ranweli Holiday Village’

Ecotourism is an exciting niche market that combines the pleasure of discovering and understanding spectacular fauna, flora and cultural sites a holiday in the educational periphery combined with conservation and welfare of the community, In contrast to the pleasure periphery based on consumerism offered by mass tourism.

The term ecotourism first appeared in the 1970s, a decade during which emerged the rise of a global environmental movement and a convergence of demand for sustainable and socially responsible forms of tourism. With a history deeply rooted in the conservation movement ecotourism has provided a highly strategic source of revenue to natural and cultural areas that need protection. Further, ecotourism could be used as a strategy for poverty alleviation since these assets are often located in peripheral areas.

The word ‘ecotourism’ has become a buzz word and a marketing tool for spurious products referred to as “green washing” in ecotourism literature. Ecotourism should be developed with ecological and sociological sensitivity in order to achieve the principles on which it is based, namely:

  • Responsible travel to natural and cultural areas,
  • which conserves the environment and
  • sustains the well-being of the local people.

Ecotourism ranges from a casual walk through undisturbed forests to exploration and study of unique natural and cultural features in remote areas.

An important product of ecotourism is the eco lodge coupled with facilities based on nature and culture as operations are different from conventional tourism.

ECOLODGE & CONVENTIONAL RESORTS

Ecolodges- the lodging facility of ecotourists- are generally small units of 10 – 15 rooms constructed with local building material and traditional methods. An ecolodge could be constructed with wattle and daub with village labour and decorated with local artifacts to create an indigenous flair. They have to be built in harmony with the natural environment in spirit and design.

EVOLUTION OF ECOLODGES

During the last decade ecotourism properties have been constructed around the world in proximity to forests and cultural centers which can extend to over 100 rooms provided the spatial dimension is taken into consideration and constructed on the principles of carrying capacity. Carrying capacity means that some use or development limit exists which when exceeded, begins the process of environmental degradation.

KINGFISHER BAY RESORT AND VILLAGE (KBRV)

A global example is Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village (KBRV) located in Frazer island in Queensland . Frazer island is 180,000 Hectares in extent with woodlands and a rainforest. KBRV is a land mark in the ecotourism industry. It includes a 152 room resort , 75 residential villas and a 120 bed wilderness lodge , staff and shopping villages constructed on a scheme sympathetic to the natural shapes of the island with environmental, social and economic sustainability, landscaping and interior design.

The philosophy behind the project was that Frazer island would be the primary motivation for guests to visit the resort. The antithesis of the approach of most of the beach hotels, concrete castles designed to be fully self contained and internally focused.

ECONOMIC LEAKAGE

Conventional tourism often involves substantial ‘leakages’ of income out of the country as costly items for construction, furnishings and décor, food and beverages are central to the construction and operation of traditional hotels. World Bank estimates that the leakage is around 50% – 70%.

Ecotourists do not expect accommodations, food or night life that meet the standard of comfort or luxury held by other groups of tourists. For ecotourists living with local conditions, customs and food ‘enrich’ their vacation experiences. They are well educated and discerning travellers looking for knowledge based holidays, and engage in activities, such as bird watching, nature and cultural tours etc. for which expert interpreters (guides) are engaged.

Thus, most of the money remain in the country – particularly in peripheral areas, stimulating economic activity and growth in the rural sector. Leakage out of the country is therefore minimal.

Local communities have the most at stake and therefore most to loose, in the emerging ecotourism market place. As globalization makes local economic control increasingly difficult, ecotourism seeks to reverse the trend by stressing that local entrepreneurs and communities must be vitally involved

Consequently, ecotourism, which is a niche segment of the tourism industry should be owned and managed by Sri Lankans, which will prevent leakages out of the country and provide the right Sri Lankan flavour and stimulate the appreciation of nature and culture among the community. Further, Sri Lankans know their country best and ecotourism should be their business; as the resource base is their heritage.

Ecotourism could be developed extensively in Sri Lanka. Such development can make a sustained contribution to the Sri Lankan economy, to the generation of country-wide employment and to the improvement of the quality of life of the people.

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