Ecotourism has changed the world of nature based tourism around the globe. It has not only provided tourists an opportunity to enjoy and explore nature in its native form; but has also provided an additional revenue for several economically backward communities who are exclusively dependent on hosting tourists throughout the year as their often only source of income.
It is important to note that ecotourism has not only changed quality of life for their hosts in the First World countries; but, also in developing and underdeveloped nations of Asia Africa, Latin America, Eastern and Southern Europe, several island nations in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.
Ecotourism has played a significant role in the economic transformation of several isolated and remote communities settled in dense forests, difficult terrains, inaccessible locations and isolated island groups.
Many such remote, rural communities, tribal or aboriginal groups, fringe forest residents or people settled close to nature with spectacular natural beauty have benefited from the process. Additional cash flow into the region through the tourists has helped in slowly transforming local as well as regional economies.
A part of the money generated has been utilized in conservation of the local natural resources such as sea beaches, mountain forests, wildlife and biodiversity. While another part has gone towards rapid development of local infrastructure in the form of building better motorable roads and railway networks, bridges and underpasses, small airports, nearby hotels, motels, guest houses, resorts and recreation centres over time.
The objective has been to increase the flow of tourists and make it a year round process for higher income for the region. Furthermore m, such an endeavor has been important for earning much needed foreign exchange for boosting the national economy. Hence, ecotourism can be looked upon as a highly cherished fancy pie and every stakeholder got a share of that pie in pieces.
There has been strong political support in the development of ecotourism as every political party in any country benefits from the process demonstrating that their policies and initiatives have been greatly successful in transforming the economies of remote rural areas and that secure their closely guarded vote bank.
Challenges of ecotourism
However, ecotourism has not always been super beneficial in different highly fragile and sensitive ecosystems in many countries around the world. The over flow of enthusiastic tourists in overwhelming large numbers in highly fragile ecosystems have been turning detrimental and resulting in slow destruction of these ecologically sensitive units. Accidental death of local wildlife coming in close contact with vehicles or railway engines are being killed or seriously injured regularly.
The waste disposal and sewage system management in many of these sensitive areas have been quite poor and as a consequence have been putting negative pressures on the local ecosystems. Often pathogens, diseases and exotic predators have been introduced into many ecologically sensitive areas damaging wildlife and complex forest food chains and food webs established through several million years of complex evolution.
Often, the hosts serving ecotourists and the so called ecotourists themselves are not thoughtful of their responsibility and role in protecting the natural ecosystems. Not being sensitive to the ecological issues, they are often over exploitative of their immediate environments for short term economic benefits. Our small actions have long-term, negative consequences on the same ecosystem and environment that are there bread-and-butter.
Unless care is taken to protect these sensitive ecosystems and to cater to the local wildlife and biodiversity in sustainable manner; ecotourism has often proved to be a rather nuisance than an opportunity with long term negative impacts on the local environment.
Several rare and endangered as well as endemic species of flora and fauna have slowly started disappearing from such special ecological areas due to over harvesting as souvenirs or memorabilia or as trophies. Such behavior cannot be tolerated in sensitive eco zones and need to be dealt with utmost priority and seriousness.
Education and awareness about the sensitive local ecosystems among the local host communities as well as visiting ecotourists is important in that aspect. Both stakeholders must realize that irresponsible and selfish behavior and attitude goes completely against the true spirit of ecotourism. The main objective of ecotourism is to share and care for the nature and not ruthless and indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources.
Hence all stakeholders involved in this process including host communities, ecotourists, forest department, local administration and several non-government organizations working in the area to promote education and awareness regarding involvement as well as conservation of forests, wildlife and biodiversity need to come together to work on a common platform.
If everyone plays their role with enthusiasm, honesty and responsibility towards the nature, ecotourism has much more to offer than simply promoting local economies. It is a new world view that all needs to recognize, respect and appreciate as well learn to protect and conserve for our future generations.