Ecotourism: Are current practices delivering desired outcomes? A comparative case study analysis
Matthews, Elizabeth Joy
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Ecotourism has emerged as one of the fastest- growing sectors of the tourism market, influenced primarily by public demand for more environmentally responsible tourism. When planned properly, it has been asserted that ecotourism can integrate conservation of biodiversity with socio-economic development of local communities. For this reason, many governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are eager to develop ecotourism in protected areas in order to maximize these benefits. However, ecotourism can have significant negative impacts when poorly planned and managed including severe environmental degradation, negative cultural changes and decreased welfare of individuals or communities. Ecotourism should not be regarded as a panacea for harmonizing rural development with environmental conservation until the industryâ s influence on developing countries has been thoroughly analyzed. This paper shall explore whether ecotourism has proven to be an effective tool for integrating conservation and development. Through the examination of existing literature pertaining to ecotourism, I investigate the environmental, economic and social impacts of 14 ecotourism development projects in seven developing countries: Belize, Costa Rica, Dominica, Ecuador, Indonesia, Nepal and Peru. The case study analysis reveals that local communities adjacent to protected areas are often not fully involved in the tourism development planning process. Ecotourism as a mechanism for achieving local conservation and development goals is more successful when projects prioritize local involvement and control. Through the identification of trends emerging from the case studies, this paper contributes to the ongoing discussion of ecotourism as a development strategy and suggests that local participation should be encouraged in ecotourism development.
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