Stuck in the mud- The problem with ‘ecotourism’

English: Stuck in the mud! An old boat going n...

English: Stuck in the mud! An old boat going nowhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Recreation, tourism and the environment are interdependent, but their relationship is not constant, varying over space and time” (Pigram and Jenkins 2003, 249). This globetrotters, is the message of the week, that tourism and the many delicate host areas are part of a fragile balance that should always be taken into account before setting off anywhere. On that note welcome back, for those still in search of last week’s star please rest assured he safe and well 🙂 When discussing tourism and the environment there are many things to consider (as any good tourism or leisure studies academic well knows). These include:

  • The sustainability of the tourism attraction itself – I suppose you could say there would not be much point in a visitor spending a bucket load of cash and time to see a rare animal or plant if it’s not going to be there any more, or certainly no point in creating a business based on that income.
  • The impact on local flora and fauna- This can include things like the change of behavior (relative domestication) in local animals, like becoming dependent on tourists for food instead of procuring nourishment for themselves.
  • Change in the landscape to allow space for tourism facilities- Here we’re talking about land being cleared to make space for hotels, resorts, tourism information centres, roads and walking trails being carved etc.
  • Disturbances to locals- noise from aircraft, congestion in city areas and the overshadowing of smaller local businesses are all possibilities with the introduction of tourism.

    English: © Leonardo C. Fleck (leonardofleck@ya...

    English: © Leonardo C. Fleck ( (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about Ecotourism?

At the risk of using a holy travel name in vain, lonely planet and rough guides are among the list of many travel publications currently blurring people’s understanding of ecotourism as a concept. In these publications ‘ecotourism’ is promoted as the mere opportunity to interact with unique ecosystems and their inhabitants rather than the tourism industry’s perspective which includes the care that needs to be taken in minimizing negative impact on these environments for the sake of sustainability. Tourism theorists have coined the term ‘nature-based tourism’ used to refer to tourism within natural areas that may not exist in the context of sustainability and preservation.  

As defined by Ecotourism Australia:

“Ecotourism  is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing  natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding,  appreciation and conservation”.

Currently in Australia ecotourism accreditation is a voluntary scheme, even though there is a range of legislation restricting the practices of tourism operators across the board. The other big concern here is that companies within the tourism industry are notified before an inspection is to occur, allowing them more than enough time to rectify any possible practices outside the legal guidelines already set. That said, Australia can also be proud of its leading role in world ecotourism standards. A link to Ecotourism Australia’s site has been added to this home page for you curious travelers.

Is it all bad news?

Proudly, tourism can claim responsibility for the rejuvenation, preservation and care of fragile ecosystems worldwide that may have disappeared altogether without external interest. Also worth mentioning is the role tourism as a generator of revenue has played in protecting many areas and their animals from the likes of mining, poaching, hunting and other destructive potentials. Tourism (as an industry) can further boast its ability to draw the attention of the global media to the environmental issues of a place.

The latest trend within what I would like to dub affectionately  ‘eco-conscious tourism’ (that’s right folks, you heard it here first, unless of course you didn’t, in which case let me know) is the option of paying voluntary taxes, particularly with air travel as a means toward balancing the impact of the poisons emitted to get you to your island in the sun (to feature in an upcoming GTG entry), commonly known as the carbon offset.

Bangladeshi woman

Well it may have required the dragging out of the old university text books (and congratulations for making it all the way through) but hopefully, even though we have just scratched the surface of what is an incredibly complex issue, the next time you set off somewhere you have the opportunity to feel more consciously involved and proud of the knowledge you have minimized your environmental impact as a traveler where possible. We’ll let you know when we come up with a feasible alternative of travel by calico magic carpet, until next week.


Ecotourism Australia Website

Pigram, John. J and Jenkins, John, M 2003, outdoor recreation  management, Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane London.

Hall, Craig. Michael 2007, Tourism in Australia, Development, Issues and change 5th edition, Pearson Education, Frenchs Forrest NSW.