Tourism is now an important source of foreign exchange for many developing countries. The development of tourism in and around protected areas is seen as one of the best ways of delivering economic benefits to remote areas by providing local employment, stimulating local markets, and improving transportation and communication infrastructure. These are vitally important for a developing country like Nepal.
Tourism has grown in Nepal since the first ascent of Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, although at a slow pace. For long Nepal’s tourism was basically associated with travel to remote areas, mountaineering and trekking. In recent years the sector has also been influenced by new concepts and trends in world. Since ecotourism is related with nature travel in rural, remote and protected areas, tourism in Nepal is often viewed from an ecotourism perspective. Therefore the need to explore the current status of ecotourism and its growth in the country was realized.
Ecotourism projects have been established across the world since the concept was first introduced. In many cases these endeavors have been successful and present useful lessons. Therefore, to supplement its value, this study does not confine itself to Nepal but also examines ecotourism efforts in other parts of the world.
Ecotourism Guidelines for Travelers
1) Prepare for your trip
2) Respect local traditions and etiquette
3) Avoid ostentatious display of wealth
4) Be flexible in your expectations
5) Conserve resources
6) Practice environmental minimum impact
7) Choosing a tour operator or guide
8) Support local economies
9) Continued ecotourism
10) Bridging cultural gaps
Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.
With advances in transportation and information technology, even the most remote places on Earth are within reach of the traveler. In fact, tourism is now the world’s largest industry, with nature tourism the fastest growing segment.
People want to experience the nature and the world, but should try to do so in a way that doesn’t impact the natural environment.
In response to this increasing appreciation of nature experiences, a new travel ethic has arisen called ecotourism.
Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
• Minimize impact.
• Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
• Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
• Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
• Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
• Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.
Most tourism in natural areas today is not ecotourism and is not, therefore, sustainable. Ecotourism is distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation. Specifically, ecotourism possesses the following characteristics:
• Conscientious, low-impact visitor behavior
• Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity
• Support for local conservation efforts
• Sustainable benefits to local communities
• Local participation in decision-making
• Educational components for both the traveler and local communities
Increased tourism to sensitive natural areas without appropriate planning and management can threaten the integrity of ecosystems and local cultures.
The increase of visitors to ecologically sensitive areas can lead to significant environmental degradation. Likewise, local communities and indigenous cultures can be harmed in numerous ways by an influx of foreign visitors and wealth. Additionally, fluctuations in climate, currency exchange rates, and political and social conditions can make over-dependence upon tourism a risky business.
However, this same growth creates significant opportunities for both conservation and local communities. Ecotourism can provide much-needed revenues for the protection of national parks and other natural areas revenues that might not be available from other sources.
Additionally, ecotourism can provide a viable economic development alternative for local communities with few other income-generating options. Moreover, ecotourism can increase the level of education and activism among travelers, making them more enthusiastic and effective agents of conservation.
Offering market-linked long-term solutions, ecotourism provides effective economic incentives for conserving and enhancing bio-cultural diversity and helps protect the natural and cultural heritage of our beautiful planet.
With an emphasis on enriching personal experiences and environmental awareness through interpretation, ecotourism promotes greater understanding and appreciation for nature, local society, and culture.
By increasing local capacity building and employment opportunities, ecotourism is an effective vehicle for empowering local communities around the world to fight against poverty and to achieve sustainable development.