013_Global12_InFocus_Tourism_5

Global issue 12

Global InsightSustainable Tourism businesses can provide sustainable livelihood alternatives for the which they are based. Carbone of IUCN explains, “In our view, the local community, hence taking away pressure from the local envi- only way the word ecotourism is used correctly is if it is linked to ronment. Also, they can help raise funds for projects.” activities that conserve biodiversity and enhance local livelihoods.” For holidaymakers seeking out ecotourist destinations, the be- Hotels, travel companies and tour operators that have partnered with wildering variety of locations on offer can pose a dilemma. An environmental or conservation organisations also have to meet exact- ever-increasing number of hotels and guest houses are laying claim ing standards to gain such a cachet. IUCN, for instance, has formed to environmental credentials, anxious to broaden their appeal and, an alliance with the European travel company Kuoni in order to offer in some cases, save money through efficiencies that also preserve a range of holidays with added benefits, and also publishes guides for the environment. But is the claim of an ecotourism label enough to hotel owners to improve their environmental performance. ensure real benefits? Ensuring that local communities benefit can make for longer- How should the responsible traveller make a choice? One way term sustainability – of which financial sustainability is an essen- is to look for destinations that describe themselves as eco-friendly. tial part. Ezaki says companies must make a healthy profit if they The difficulty with that is there is no single agreed-upon definition want to become a mainstay of the local community, “eco-tourism of ecotourism. Carbone explains: “Ecotourism is not a brand – it is a is important because it’s a conservation and sustainable develop- way to link conservation and business that can take place anywhere.” ment tool that is linked to economic opportunities. Successfully Hotels may trumpet their eco-credentials but if you scratch the implementing ecotourism can expand economic opportunities for surface their claims are exposed, says Kym Cheatham, chief execu- communities where other available options to sustain local liveli- tive of Ecotourism Australia. Cards left on bedside tables inviting hoods are not sustainable, financially or ecologically. Plus, due to guests to reuse their towels are usually portrayed as an environmen- its focus on authentic and educational experiences, ecotourism can tal measure, intended to save water and detergents. The real reason also be a tool to preserve – or in some cases revive and keep thriv- is more usually that, as laundry is one of the major running costs for ing – tangible and intangible heritage such as local traditions and any hotel, managers can save large amounts of money by encourag- ways of life that may otherwise be lost.” ing customers to hold on to their linen for a little longer. Similarly, She points to the Mapajo Indigenous Community Ecotourism energy-saving technologies such as electrical wiring that turns off Company in Bolivia, winner of a United Nations prize. The Tsi- lights when the room is vacant also cut down on running costs. mane community decided that its way of life was best preserved Cheatham warns, “We would encourage travellers to look be- by opening up to people from around the world, rather than trying yond the marketing and look for independent assessment of a tour- washing’ in tourism. Look beyond the words for on-the-ground Energy and water efficiency are- ism operator’s environmental impact. There is too much ‘green proof of their commitment and action to being environmentally extremely important, and any ecotourist sustainable. Look for support of conservation and of local com- munities. Remember that not all nature tourism is eco-friendly.” destination worth the name will have Energy and water efficiency are extremely important, and any strategies for minimising waste, recycling ecotourist destination worth the name will have strategies for these, as well as for minimising waste, recycling, using environmentally and using sustainable materials sustainable and preferably local materials, sourcing organic or oth- er low-impact local food, generating renewable energy where pos- sible and avoiding pollution. But effective environmental manage- to cut itself off. The community came together to offer active holi- ment goes much further than these basics. Real ecotourism requires days to visitors, in traditionally built dwellings and with traditional not just care for the environment but also – preferably – attention food hunted, gathered and grown in the rainforest, to give travellers to local people. Cutting water use and economising on energy are an authentic experience. Visitors can witness local people pursu- only the start. ing indigenous crafts such as weaving and making costumes for Ayako Ezaki, director of communications at The International festivals. Ecotourism Society, recommends looking for an independent seal Other examples include the Silver Naga luxury hotel in Laos, as- of approval (such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria at sisted by the IUCN, and working in harmony with a local tourism www.gstcouncil.org and the tools of Responsible Tourism Report- site of the Kang Nyui waterfall, developed as a tourist site by the ing at http://rtreporting.org), which demonstrates a company’s ef- people of the Na Duang village and the Vang Vieng organic farm. forts to implement and report on its sustainability initiatives. By offering a range of differing experiences, the people of this poor Ezaki also advises that travellers seek out evidence to back up the area of Laos can attract a wider variety of visitors. marketing claims. She says, “I would recommend travellers looking Being an eco-traveller may be more satisfying than simply fol- to take an eco-friendly vacation to first look for clues in the way lowing the herd to the usual resorts and attractions, but some careful the hotel or the operator communicates about their engagement in preparation is involved. Responsible tourists will check that their ecotourism or about their commitment to sustainability – look at the destination is living up to its billing – seeking evidence from the ecotourism section of their website, sustainability reports, and so on. company’s own website, for instance, or looking for independent For example, do they call themselves ‘eco’, ‘green’, ‘responsible’ verification in the form of standards or awards. As well as check- without offering any example? Or do they effectively tell the story of ing out price, location and TripAdvisor reviews, they will also add how their environmental efforts and sustainability practices actually a few searching questions on environmental commitments, and opt make a difference for the local community and destination?” for destinations that provide lasting benefits to the environment Some ecotourism experts would go further, requiring that ho- and to local communities. tels and guest houses should obey environmental imperatives, but also provide tangible benefits – jobs, improvement programmes, biodiversity restoration projects and similar – to the communities in Fiona Harvey is Environment Correspondent at the Guardian globalfourth quarter 2012 www.global-briefing.org l13


Global issue 12
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