Over the past two decades ecotourism activities have expanded
rapidly and further growth is expected in the future. Recognizing
its global importance, the United Nations designated the year
2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism, and its Commission
on Sustainable Development requested international agencies, governments
and the private sector to undertake supportive activities.
In this framework the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and
the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) organized a
pioneering forum that was conducted solely online the Internet.
The Conference was developed and moderated by Ron Mader, author
and webhost of the Planeta.com website.
The prime objective of the conference was to provide easy
access for a wide range of stakeholders involved in ecotourism
to exchange experiences and voice comments, especially for those
who had not been able to attend the regional preparatory conferences
that had taken place in the past year.
The experience and results derived from the Sustainable Development
of Ecotourism Web Conference will be presented at the World
Ecotourism Summit in Quebec, Canada (19-22 May 2002).
More than 900 stakeholders from 97 countries participated
in this Conference, representing international, public and private
organizations, NGOs, academic institutions and local communities.
During the event, more than 100 messages, received from around
30 countries, were posted and archived for future reference.
Participants shared information through case studies, specific
examples and field experiences, and recommended resources for
those interested in ecotourism issues. Intensive debates developed
on some messages, analyzing specific topics from a range of
views. Archives can be consulted online
Participants were asked to send messages in English, Spanish
The discussion was focused on four main themes defined for
the World Ecotourism Summit, in four thematic sessions addressed
in each of the four weeks of the event:
Theme 1: Ecotourism Policy and Planning: The Sustainability
As in other preparatory conferences for the World Ecotourism Summit,
there was some overlap in the dialogue, particularly at the beginning
of each theme week. Participants often consciously chose to mix
their responses to various topics in a single post. These messages
provided particularly useful insights to the complex nature of
the ecotourism market.
Theme 2: Regulation of Ecotourism: Institutional Responsibilities
Theme 3: Product Development, Marketing and Promotion of Ecotourism:
Fostering Sustainable Products and Consumers
Theme 4: Monitoring Costs and Benefits of Ecotourism: Ensuring
Equitable Distribution among all Stakeholders
A draft of this summary report was circulated among participants
SUMMARY OF DISCUSSIONS
Throughout the four-week conference there was a thoughtful dialogue
about the complexities of ecotourism. Several participants indicated
that the process leading up to the World Ecotourism Summit and
the Summit itself present a major opportunity to promote mutually
reinforcing relationships that exist among tourism operations,
conservation, and local community development.
As ecotourism has dramatically captured the attention of people
around the world, there are many expectations of what ecotourism
can offer for a particular locality, as well for larger regions
and in the global environmental movement.
There was a plethora of discussion about definitions that
should be used in this field. There was also a healthy dialogue
about the type of ecotourism that can and should be promoted.
Discussions drew from the complexities of ecotourism regulation,
certification, product development and marketing. Of note were
repeated comments and dialogue about positive and negative impacts
of tourism on communities and local people.
There is a growing concern that ecotourism is such a powerful
force driven by the world's largest industry and participants
stressed that it is essential that the ecotourism sector remains
a low impact niche.
Several participants questioned whether travel could be considered
a sustainable activity, because of basic environmental impacts
associated with the use of motor vehicles and aircrafts. These
questions led participants into a productive dialogue about
available information resources as well as the need for continued
study and the development of action plans.
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on how effective
are ecotourism plans at the international, national and local
levels in promoting sustainable ecotourism. Among other questions,
they were asked whether ecotourism policies integrate with wider
planning frameworks and what is the most efficient way to balance
conservation and development objectives in ecotourism policies.
Ecotourism Policy and Planning: The Sustainability Challenge
Overview: Participants presented edited case studies
of ecotourism policy from Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Hungary,
India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Venezuela. Of special note were
discussions that linked successful management of protected areas
to the inclusion of local people and stakeholders.
Comments and Conclusions
- The conceptual and practical workings of ecotourism have
been isolated from each other too long. Ecotourism development
should focus on action plans and not become, as one participant
complained, "bogged down" in definitions.
- Ecotourism promoted by single organizations with single
objectives, without involving all stakeholder groups affected,
lead to poorly balanced strategies. Governments, environmental
and social groups, the private sector, academics and local
communities need to work jointly towards the development of
effective ecotourism policies.
- The governments' role in ecotourism development is to provide
the overall policy environment to permit development to proceed
along an orderly path. This framework needs to clearly involve
and welcome participation of other sectors. Ecotourism plans
should be widely circulated among community members, NGOs,
government agencies, travel companies and other stakeholders.
- There has been a lag in governmental response to development
that threatens conservation of protected areas at many destinations.
Obstacles include a lack of qualified personnel, lack of continuity
and lack of interest in small scale ecotourism operations.
- Policy making lies often in the hands of people with limited
field business experience. This leads to regulations that
are not feasible at the ground level and consequently are
not implemented. Said one participant: "The cycle of impossible
laws, blatant non-compliance, corruption and disbelief in
the legal system is a constraint for businesses aiming at
ecotourism operations in a sustainable way. Therefore, policy
is often incongruous with reality." When policy makers do
not have the background in this field or experience in the
local area, there is a need to teach policy makers so that
policies reflect social and environmental concerns as well
as market realities.
- National directives are often unimplemented because of lack
of cross sector commitment from various ministries or lack
of continuity. High turn-over and poor communication between
government offices were cited as chief causes of this problem.
- While national level policies are important to ecotourism,
development takes place at the local level. Local authorities
play a key role, and in many localities a bottom-up approach
to ecotourism planning is desirable. There is a great need
for cooperation between authorities at different levels. Also,
legal standards need to be integrated so that the structure
supports the development of ecotourism
- Development plans need to identify financial sources and
financing mechanisms for local, regional and national programs
and cultivate these resources for long-term investment. Ecotourism
projects rarely succeed as quickly or as profitably as other
sectors, so ecotourism requires long-term financial commitment.
- Ecotourism operations may cause a negative impact on local
populations. Tourism can drive up local prices and force locals
to move away or restrictive policies lead businesses to develop
operations elsewhere. Ecotourism for protected areas must
bring indirect conflict resolution with local people/stakeholders,
education for visitors; financial income from tourism for
communities living within or adjacent to those areas.
- It is to everyone's advantage that nature based tourism
operations move increasingly towards adoption of the principles
of ecotourism, to ensure that sensitive natural areas are
conserved and local community and cultural benefits are maximized.
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on how policies
and plans can be implemented and what are the positive and negative
effects of these regulations on stakeholders and on the environment
of ecotourism sites? Among other issues, they were asked about
what the role is and could be of ecotourism certification and
who benefits from such programs.
Regulation of Ecotourism: Institutional Responsibilities and
Overview: Participants provided numerous examples about
regulation, including detailed essays about tourism certification
in Brazil, tourism legislation in Venezuela and community tourism
in Ecuador. Others noted the absence of legal mechanisms ensuring
repayment of economic activity income to the protected area.
Participants also brought up the pros and cons of certification
Comments and Conclusions
- If regulation is too strict it can hamper competitiveness,
and operators or countries can be placed at a disadvantage.
On the other hand, if consumers place an economic value on
healthy ecosystems, the market will drive all operators to
achieve higher levels of environmental stewardship.
- Regulation will not work effectively if the community, the
tour operator, tour guide and tourists themselves do not share
the same concept of ecotourism. The concepts must be relevant
to all stakeholders. Successful ecotourism development requires
agreements on definitions and consistent legislation.
- Effective certification programs need to inform the traveling
public about ecotourism products and services. Certification
and accreditation should include as a priority a campaign
and a coalition of media and communication professionals that
effectively deliver the message. If clients are not requesting
certification standards, one participant argued the practice
may be "putting the cart before the horse."
- Other participants noted that even if certification schemes
are not sought by tourism consumers, business-to-business
operations do pursue them. Well designed certification programs
can help achieve the objectives of ecotourism by providing
incentives to certified ecotourism operators with a marketing
- National broad-based coalitions have the best records for
developing certification. One example frequently cited is
Australia's National Ecotourism Accreditation Programme (NEAP)
which has developed as the result of multi-sector discussions
among the government, private sector and academics.
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on challenges
and opportunities of ecotourism product development and marketing.
Among other questions, Participants were asked what role is played
by public and private protected area managers and the private
sector. Also, what marketing and promotional techniques have proven
to be effective and how participants saw the role of transnational
corporations, hotel chains and franchises in facilitating sustainable
tourism development and supporting local tourism businesses.
Product Development, Marketing and Promotion of Ecotourism:
Fostering Sustainable Products and Consumers
Overview: Participants recounted examples about product
development and marketing in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China,
Chile, Ecuador, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United
A lively discussion over competing versions of ecotourism
that needed to be promoted emerged during the third week. As
one participant commented: "Like the environmental movement,
there is room in ecotourism for many different styles. Just
as a road protester chaining himself to a tree and a lawyer
in a three-piece suit may be fighting for the same thing, and
they are both necessary and worthwhile, ecotourism needs both
the high-end, no microphones, one-at-a-time operator and the
more mainstream, wholesale crowd pleaser."
Not surprising for a conference conducted online, participants
discussed the role of Internet in ecotourism development, particularly
in marketing and promotion. Participants agreed that, particularly
in this niche market of ecotourism and responsible travel, websites
play an important role in developing consumer awareness and
environmental education. Several website directors explained
their operations. Of note were suggestions of how travelers
could review the tour operators on the web, enforcing the standards
of the operators. Other sites encourage a regional dialogue
among stakeholders. Participants also noted that improved access
and training will be necessary to "bridge the digital divide"
as many parts of the world are less wired than others.
Comments and Conclusions
- Educating consumers is key to raising awareness and stimulating
demand for socially- and environmentally-friendly products
and services. The hardest sale to make is to the first-time
ecotourist. As one participants argued: "Once people have
a chance to stay in an ecolodge and to use guided services,
they are likely to become loyal customers."
- The stimulation for ecologically sensitive products should
be the key driver to improving ecotourism. One participant
said, "This should be done through customer education rather
than through regulation."
- Media coverage does not adequately address the substance
of ecotourism. One example: nature shows often focuses on
dangerous animals or scenic landscapes and leave out the human
part of the equation.
- Information needs to be accurate. For example, if a sign
reads that a path is 1 kilometer when in reality it is two
or if at the end of a hike the expected meal or refreshment
is not ready, the reputation of the tour is damaged by not
meeting the expectations of the traveler. If the service does
not meet expectations, the situation has the potential to
harm the reputation of all regional operations.
- The principal aim of an ecotourism business should be achieving
high levels of satisfaction among its clients by providing
quality services and contributing to the conservation of the
natural and cultural resources.
- Initiatives to develop and promote ecotourism are frequently
divided among private sector and government programs. In Ecuador,
for example, the past three years have seen stronger cooperation
and improved results.
- The Internet is a highly efficient, cheap and ecological
way for communities to reach and be reached by ecotourists
directly. The challenge lies in bridging the digital divide
and providing the training required by communities to master
this medium. Patience and continuity are key ingredients for
success. If such training is not provided, the Internet will
not fulfill its promise of leveling the small vs. large operator
promotional playing field.
- The experience of ecotourism operations that have successfully
promoted their products and services online show that the
Internet is a powerful tool for even the smallest operations.
Regular access has been shown to help communities communicate
and share information.
- Government tourism offices, environmental groups and companies
need to improve their use of the Web as soon as possible.
- The increasing use of Internet by ecotourists was demonstrated,
for example, through the Rural Ecotourism Assessment Project
in Belize where tourists were asked what types of marketing
they had encountered pre-trip, and more than two thirds said
they had encountered web sites, second only to word of mouth.
- There is an untapped potential in Internet cafes in tourist
centers. One participant suggested that cybercafe computers
could "have a start page directing travelers to information
on local sites or to a central consumer-oriented site."
- Most comments underlined the inherent need for ecotourism
marketing in development projects and operations, as a basic
component for economic sustainability. One participant warned:
"Noble, well-intentioned ecotourism programs fail if the heralded
ecotourists do not arrive."
- Because the definition of ecotourism is vague, ecotourism
developers and consumers are challenged by what the marketing
message should be.
- A good marketing plan should include a well-balanced, multi-media
approach. Use of the Web should be complemented with traditional
- Ecotourism operations need educated, empowered and inspired
travelers. For this tour operators and service providers should
inform and educate consumers they depart for a trip, or even
before they make decision and book for a trip.
- Tourists don't want to be just "educated." As one participant
stated: "They want to have a safe, interesting vacation, worth
their money and time."
- The tourism market is complex and there is no static profile
of the "ecotourist."
- The results of investigations, and assessments of the "ecotourism
market" are widely divergent, as survey methods and sources
of information are varied. WTO researched existing market
data as part of its Ecotourism Market Study Series, conducted
in the 7 major ecotourism generating countries of Europe and
North America. For example, the 1994 Ecotourism-Nature/Adventure/Culture:
Alberta and British Columbia (Canada) Market Demand Assessment
suggested that there was an ecotourism market of 13.2 million
travelers (representing 77% of all respondents) in just seven
of the major urban areas in North America. The ecotourism
definition used was "tourism related to nature/adventure/culture
in the countryside". An In-Flight Survey on US travelers to
overseas and Mexico, conducted by the US Department of Commerce
in 1996 and 1999 suggests that the market represents 4% of
US international travelers, and they spend less on average
than the typical US traveler. This survey used the qualification
that the ecotourists had to have participated in environmental
or ecological excursions. In conclusion, it is necessary to
further improve and coordinate ecotourism market research
activities to provide more complete data on market trends.
WTO applied a coordinated research methodology for its Ecotourism
Market Study Series that implied surveys with specialized
tour operators and tourists, in addition to the analysis of
existing market data, in each country markets.
- Developing a product requires understanding client needs
and a level of education and marketing that promotes the products
and services in the niche of ecotourism. Marketing, however,
is never as simple as "build it and they will come." Many
planners working in product development don't have a clear
idea of market competition. Citing work in the Amazon, one
participant questioned the efficiency of a community-prepared
brochure: "People have the idea that if they have a nice waterfall,
it alone is worth the time for foreigners to visit."
- Air travel is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas
emissions in the world. According to one participant, "on
an eight hour flight, each passenger is responsible for releasing
the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
If ecotourism is to be sustainable, it needs to address the
aviation issue and give travelers the option of doing something
to repair the damage they do." Other participants added that
the entire scope of transportation needs to be evaluated.
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on how the
principles of ecotourism could be measured and monitored. Among
other questions, they were asked for field experience and ideas
on how local steward communities, park personnel, tourists and
tour operators participate in monitoring activities.
Monitoring Costs and Benefits of Ecotourism: Ensuring Equitable
Distribution among all Stakeholders
Overview: Case studies of monitoring costs and benefits
were provided from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Georgia,
Hungary, Iceland, India, Mexico, Romania, Russia, South Africa,
Turkey and Ukraine.
Comments and Conclusions
- It is necessary to have widely accepted terms of a definition
for ecotourism and some consistent standards for the proper
evaluation of the costs and benefits of ecotourism.
- It's difficult to imagine effective cost/benefit analysis
without developing adequate baseline data, research mechanisms,
or improving basic information sharing as quickly as possible.
Those developing or investing in ecotourism need to share
information about the successes and failures of projects integrating
nature tourism and conservation.
- The costs and benefits of ecotourism are often social, so
these factors need to be included in a holistic monitoring
program. "There is no easy model to evaluate all the true
costs and benefits beyond the financial value," said one participant,
adding that the full payoff may be many years down the road.
- While talking about indicators, it is clear that they must
be developed by all the project's stakeholders. In terms of
the environment and local cultures, ecotourism destinations
tend to be fragile areas. Consequently, contacts must bridge
environmental and tourism interests. Examples were given from
case studies at Lake Balaton, Hungary and the Valdes Peninsula,
Argentina, from workshops and pilot projects conducted by
WTO on sustainable tourism indicators. WTO has established
a task force to prepare a new manual on the identification
and application of sustainability indicators in tourism development.
- Governments need to implement a system of monitoring in
potential development areas and have a comprehensive action
plan to respond to a development boom in ecologically sensitive
areas and the surrounding communities. Satellite accounting,
being developed under the coordination of World Tourism Organization
offers a number of benefits to measure the impacts of ecotourism.
- Many developing countries are particularly weak in providing
access to timely information about current developments, investment
opportunities, guidelines and best case examples. These resources
need to be available for all stakeholders and written in a
language directed toward their target audience.
- There are both positive and negative implications for local
ecotourism businesses working with transnationals. Local ecotourism
business could benefit from partnerships with transnationals
and bigger companies.The role of the transnational tourism
company or hotel chain can be one of partner, competitor or
investor. The ecotourism operator has some power over how
the big companies will operate. One participant advised that
"the operator must learn to think like a transnational" in
order to work with them. Another participant said that "transnational
does not necessarily mean enormous nor inhumane."
The Center for Sustainable Tourism at the University of Colorado
announced that is developing an online data bank, in collaboration
with UNEP and WTO, focusing on ecotourism/sustainable tourism.
It will contain a broad range of documents developed in the framework
of the International Year of Ecotourism by a wide range of organizations.
Planeta.com suggested developing a working group that could
develop an initiative that would promote the most effective
means of communication among stakeholders. Each would be responsible
for updating their website with a minimum amount of information.
SPOTLIGHT ON COMMUNITY TOURISM
As a cross-cutting issue, community tourism was addressed throughout
the conference. Some participants argued that ecotourism must
stress the "maximum participation of local people" -- others questioned
who could be considered a local.
Comments and Conclusions
- Communities that obtain income from ecotourism develop environmental
awareness about their own unique ecosystems. In a study funded
by the International Labour Organization in Ecuador, Peru
and Bolivia, a participant noted that the ecotourism activity
has reinforced a process of ethnic awareness. Ecuador has
pursued this study with the creation of a database of all
community-based tourism operations.
- Community-based ecotourism requires political organization.
Said one participant: "The emergence of community-based ecotourism
projects is directly linked to the political organization
of indigenous and social movements. These projects offer an
alternative to fight against poverty, injustice, discrimination
and environmental destruction." Successful community-based
ecotourism requires a level of specialization that goes beyond
"good intentions." Another participant commented about working
with communities on ecotourism: "It's not enough to have specialization
in biology or anthropology, the process is long and requires
a better understanding of the tourism market and community
- Obstacles to community-based ecotourism often include the
lack of a legal framework, promotion and marketing and interference
from traditional industries that can destroy the local environment.
- Communities that live in the areas of high biodiversity
where community-based ecotourism could be successful often
do not have the financial resources to get the training and
supplies, infrastructure and vehicles to be successful.
- Multinational development projects often exclude local peoples.
For example, one participant pointed out that in the development
of Mesoamerica's Plan Puebla Panama, ecotourism development
favors large hotel corporations and not the indigenous federations
or small scale initiatives.
- Unregulated community tourism may pose environmental harm
while providing social benefits. Said one participant: "I've
seen a dolphin-watching operation in north Bali, where the
local community have democratically worked out a system for
sharing the economic benefits: no one can have more than four
people on their boat, so everyone gets to work. The result
is 50 boats and one pod of dolphins. The best thing that could
happen for these dolphins is for a multinational company to
come along, put one or two big boats in the water, employ
all the locals and to do marketing. There may be some unemployed,
some of the profits might go elsewhere, but the dolphins would
be a lot safer."
- Some local ecotourism ventures might complain that working
with tour operators and travel agents means sharing revenues
with "outsiders.", but as a participant stated: "As in other
commercial sectors there are middle men who bring buyers and
sellers together. This is a legitimate value-added service."
- For Aboriginal or indigenous communities, ecotourism represents
a development opportunity that can bring many economic, environmental,
cultural, social and political benefits. Said one participant:
"The key for Indigenous communities to achieve these benefits
is active involvement in, and genuine control over, ecotourism
initiatives within their traditional territory. To achieve
involvement and control, Indigenous communities must be much
more than token players receiving fringe employment or craft
- Active involvement and control of ecotourism products and
services by Indigenous communities will not only benefit Indigenous
peoples. One participant wrote: "A vibrant and successful
Indigenous ecotourism sector will greatly strengthen ecotourism
as a global industry. The richness and diversity of Indigenous
cultures and traditional knowledge is an incredible resource
for the ecotourism industry."
The following are general recommendations that emerged during
the Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference:
- Ecotourism should balance top-down and bottom-up development
- Effective standards are the result of a consensus building
process among all affected interests.
- Policy makers need to learn more about ecotourism as practiced
in the field, not only as designed in the office or classroom.
- National development policies need to be harmonized to favor
ecotourism planning; at the very least, national policies
should not undermine ecotourism development.
- Priority should be given in the training of local people
and park managers and to monitoring the delivery of services
and products to insure they meet expectations.
- An umbrella organization of multi-sector ecotourism enterprises
and public authorities should be created to develop and market
a particular region. Membership in this organization should
not be priced out of the reach of small local operators.
- Accessible financing (grants, inexpensive long-term loans)
is needed for ecotourism projects and must include ways to
measure whether these monies are being used effectively.
- Internet communication provides a low-cost and efficient
mechanism for both promotion and development; it needs to
be complemented with other communication strategies.
- Information needs to be accurate; access to timely and useful
information needs to be improved for all stakeholders.
- Media professionals need to provide better insights into
ecotourism without losing the human dimension.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF ECOTOURISM CONFERENCE ARCHIVE
- This archive is automatically updated throughout the event
and may be searched and accessed by the public.
- This conference center page provides a short synthesis of
the aims and deadlines of the conference. It also provides links
to an index of messages posted during the event and the list
of questions we asked participants to answer. The center also
includes tips on online conferencing and troubleshooting assistance.
Another key document is the IYE 2002 Resource Guide http://old.planeta.com/ecotravel/tour/year.html
- This document provides links to official events, summaries,
criticism and related initiatives to the International Year
of Ecotourism. The page is regularly updated with corrections
and suggestions made in the ongoing IYE2002 Forum
UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME
- This site provides the information about UNEP ecotourism studies,
including backgrounders on the IYE objectives, and UNEP's partners
and activities. The site links to summary reports from preparatory
conferences and includes a number of documents in PDF format.
WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION
- This website includes updated news on international, regional
and national activities in the framework of the International
year of Ecotourism 2002 and related activities, including links
to final reports from various preparatory conferences, and press
releases, as well as information about WTO publications. Its
served for basic information, background documents and registration
for the Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference.
In addition to this information, this page now contains the
complete final report and an evaluation of the web-conference.
IYE 2002 Resource Guide:
Insider's Guide: Online Yahoo.com:
Conferences - Mastering the Web:
IYE 2002 Forum:
2002 Ecotourism Conference:
Year of Ecotourism
How is your conference green?
Toward Effective Communication in Responsible Travel and Ecotourism