Ecotourism And Sustainable Development
Ecotourism is touted as a successful tool for promoting sustainable economic practices in developing nations, and for encouraging environmental conservation worldwide. The guiding principle of sustainable development is to meet the needs and aspirations of a region's present generation of people without compromising those of future generations. Sustainable development policies also seek to develop economic systems that run with little or no net consumption of natural resources, and that avoid ecological damage. Ecotourism, like other successful sustainable development strategies, provides a strong economic incentive to protect natural resources. Economies that depend on ecotourism dollars have an obvious interest in preserving the natural and culture features that these amateur naturalists and explorers pay to see. Furthermore, the environmental impacts and resource needs of ecotourism, which include development of trail systems and access roads, use of fuel and vehicles for transportation to and from the wilderness, and establishment of campsites, are minimal, especially when compared to the land use practices that commercial nature travel often replaces. Finally, the firsthand experience of traveling in the wilderness, of observing natural complexity, and of reflecting on the fragility of ecosystems stressed by human uses often gives ecotourists and their local guides a new perspective on the value of environmental preservation and resource conservation.
A number of international organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Conservation International, support ecotourism as a component of their sustainable development and environmental conservation strategies. In fact, 2002 was designated as the International Year of Ecotourism. While many governments and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promote ecotourism, they also caution that ecotourism must be practiced correctly in order to provide positive results for the region involved, and for the tour's participants. Many of the activities offered by ecotourism companies, including high-altitude mountaineering, whitewater paddling, diving, and travel in the remote wilderness, are inherently dangerous, and require highly skilled guides. Furthermore, some of the Earth's most remarkable natural features exist in politically unstable nations, where international visitors may be unwelcome, or even unsafe. Ecotourism, practiced incorrectly, can also cause significant environmental damage. A safari hunt for an endangered animal in a country that has lax conservation laws, for example, is not a sustainable ecotour. Finally, ecotourism enterprises that exploit another region's natural and cultural resources without contributing to the local economy do not meet the criteria for sustainable development. If none of the tourists' money goes to the local businesses or conservation agencies, then often-poorer countries bear the financial responsibility of providing protected natural and cultural sites for wealthy foreigners to visit, but receive none of the financial reward. Organizations like the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the International Ecotourism Society (IES) investigate various ecotourism enterprises, and can provide potential ecotourists with valuable guidance in choosing a company to guide them on a safe, sustainable adventure.