TODAY -

Origin and Evolution of Eco-tourism

By: Dr H Birkumar Singh *



The concept and genesis of ecotourism evolved from a creative strategic view for conservation, promotion and protection into a massive global economical enterprise. Although its popularity is gradually gaining the tourism industry more than any other type of travel, ecotourism has encountered many questions during the first few decades of its evolution. Ecotourism is difficult to define clearly because successful eco-tour operators fully explained the problems encountered and vast different concepts.

There are numerous contrasting ideas between the tourism industry, who regard ecotourism as an exciting new venture and product to market and environmental groups, who tend to see it mores on a philosophy for conservation and protection of natural and cultural dimensions.

Ecotourism is also greatly influenced by the goals of investors, developers, tour operators, economists, politicians, and international aid and socio-cultural agencies. There is further debate from native groups and cultural organisations who contest the development of ecotourism saying it focuses too narrowly on the environmental and social-cultural and economic issues are not taken into active consideration.

There are many reasons for the naturalistic and greening of the tourism industry. To appreciate what the ecotourism is, it is essential to understand the history of environment and cultural responsible travel in general. Each passing decade contributes to a growing consciousness of human beings.

Since the 1960s we have become increasingly concerned over peace, human rights, and the environmental and landscape destruction of our planet and in the subsequent stages the concern of socio-cultural dimension are focused. These ideological changes are reflected and adapted in the changing face of the travel and tour industry worldwide.

The responsible tourism or eco-friendly tourism movement evolved in the 1970s as a reaction to many negative consequences of tourism prostitution, crime, drugs trafficking, cultural devastation, destruction of natural landscape and natural resources, and economic discrepancies. The movement grew to include cultural organisations, educational groups, ethnic institutions and friendship tours.

Active participation and grassroot involvement of local communities at different level is felt. Benefit sharing was greatly highlighted where the local community stands at the core of the debate. Conservationists and planners were realised the role of community in controlling the wilderness of the tourist destinations.

These new forms of tourism helped facilitate international conferences, the formation of local community organisations at different level, as well as other alliances among progressive organisations.

The ideologies of the responsible tourism movement helped spawn the rise of an environmental friendly tourism movement in the early 1980s which looks into the wilderness of the destination. Wilderness may be in the form of biological and physical landscape. This shift was initiated by conservation groups and development organisations and greatly supported by consumers concerned about the environment. One of the first global responsible and friendly tourism conferences in 1988 combined the two movements.

The objective of Tourism: A vital force for peace was to identify initiatives and measures through which the global tourism industry and other concerned groups could facilitate and contribute to the goal of global peace through friendly tourism.

Protecting and promoting quality of the environment, protection of cultural erosion, contribution to a world conservation strategy for sustainable development and supporting international harmony were ideas that emerged from the conference.

The strong roots of ecotourism lie in the profitable interaction of the responsible tourism movement and nature travel. Responsible travel should always associate with the nature travel.

Environmental organisations, looking forward for ways to promote and finance conservation efforts, developed the first models of ecotourism in Africa and Latin America by collecting and using fees generated by tourists to support conservation activities.

Conservation organisations helped implementing international laws thereby protecting the endangered and vulnerable species. Large pockets of natural unique lands and water were set aside as conservation and protected areas.

However, because of the fragility of the favoured areas, such as islands ecosystems and mountain parks, the increased numbers of tourists soon began to take toll. The original designers and planners of ecotourism realised and understood that ecotourists were loving nature to death and search began for a more comprehensive definition of ecotourism and more and more numbers of concept and definitions have been framed with different conceptual views.

The most accepted and agreeable definition of ecotourism today is "responsible travel to the natural areas that sustain and conserve the well being of the local people". Still there is ample room to change or expand the concept of ecotourism due to the driven force of the modern tourists in one hand and planners, policy makers and local partners on the other hand.

[Ecotourism was a part of the PhD programme of the author in the Himalaya during 1996-1999 which was sponsored by United States Agency for International Development. USA; International Development Research Centre, Canada and The Mountain Institute, USA; The articles of Deborah McLaren has greatly helped in preparation of this article]




Dr H Birkumar Singh wrote this for The Sangai Express
The writer is Scientist In-charge, North-East Institute of Science & Technology, (CSIR), Substation, Lamphelpat. This article was webcasted on January 20th 2009.


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