The United Nations World Tourism Organization has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development to highlight ecotourism, a vital concept in the booming industry in biodiversity-rich countries. In an effort to celebrate and promote ecotourism, the Subic Ecofest was recently held in Subic Bay, Philippines that brought key persons in the industry to gather around and have a conversation and bring light to the topic.
By definition, “Eco-tourism means responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). But what exactly does it do and how important is it to our current generation?
When we talk about ecotourism, it is more than just bringing tourists in nature parks. It is about educating them and allowing them to be agents of environmental protection and conservation. However, ecotourism comes at a cost. After all, it’s still a business and the model has to be sustainable in order to attain success.
IT’S ALL ABOUT MONEY
Ecotourism has a lot of potential but as a business model, it needs to earn money in order to become sustainable. This is true in all forms. Ecotourism at the end of the day is about money. But don’t get me wrong. It is about profit but in a good and positive way.
Eco-tourism means responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.TIES, 2015
One major consideration in building ecotourism sites is educating the community itself about money. How can you teach these people to conserve and protect the environment when they don’t realize its importance economically? In rural areas, communities often rely on the environment to make ends meet and the horror just starts there. Kaingin. Overfishing. Selling of endangered and protected animals. These are just some of the problems that communities face resulting into huge damages in our environment. By educating the community that they can earn through ecotourism, we can reverse these damages. Money, in a way, binds the community together. Imagine if the community members know that they can earn more by promoting ecotourism activities compared to selling endangered marine animals as in the case of whale sharks or butanding in Pilar, Sorsogon. The one-time-big-time earning by selling whale shark meat in the region caught the attention of the national government and international organizations. In response to this, the government ordered the ban of taking, catching, selling, purchasing, possessing, transporting or exporting of whale sharks and manta rays and, ultimately, the establishment of a complete ban for the fishery and trade of whale sharks in the country (FAO 193, series of 1998). But what happens to the local community who solely relies on whale sharks for a living? To provide a better alternative, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) created the Donsol Community-Based Whale Shark Ecotourism and Coastal Resource Management project which helped Donsol become a tourist spot not only locally but globally thus, creating a livelihood that not only brings better cash flow but also becomes a way for marine protection and conservation.
By raising awareness that communities can earn better through ecotourism, we will yield the results faster.
FOR THE COMMUNITY BY THE COMMUNITY
Another argument presented in the festival is the involvement of the community in the process of creating ecotourism sites. You can have the best consultants and designers but without the involvement of the community, it won’t work. The community knows the place by heart and they know what is best for them. By involving them in the design and planning phase, the ecotourism plan becomes efficient and effective.
If you are a minority, get out and don’t be scared. Nobody knows your culture than you do.Tan Thi Shu
In her talk, Sapa Limited O’Chau founder and director Tan Thi Shu stated that, “If you are a minority, get out and don’t be scared. Nobody knows your culture than you do.” People go to ecotourism sites not only to see the beautiful nature but to experience the culture of the place. Thus, it is important to have an active participation of the local community.
THE FUTURE OF ECOTOURISM
Ecotourism is a booming industry and it’s going to stay here for long. People are now looking more at experiences compared to tourist destinations. People especially millenials and the young generation are willing to spend more for experiences than luxurious staycations.
The authentic experience presented by the local community and culture of ecotourism sites is the main attraction for the new breed of tourists and it’s not going to change for the next couple of years. Numbers will continue to rise and the demand for ecotourism sites will grow.
It is important for us to highly consider ecotourism as a new way of creating opportunities like livelihood programs while educating tourists about the importance of the environment.
Ecotourism is the future. Ecotourism is the now.
– Justin –