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Ecotourism: A Practical Guide for Rural Communities

Ecotourism: A Practical Guide for Rural Communities

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Ecotourism: A Practical Guide for Rural Communities

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364 pages
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Jan 1, 1998


Tourism, with its niche element of ecotourism, is one of Australia’s fastest growing industries, overtaking the traditional export items of coal, wheat and wool in export earnings.

This book covers everything a person needs to think about before venturing into the ecotourism market. It explains what ecotourism is and who the ecotourists are. It describes how to work with the local community and the local environment, highlighting some of the constraints and pitfalls. It explains what is needed to make a successful venture work - and how to make it pay.

Jan 1, 1998

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Ecotourism - S S. Beeton



Unemployment is a major social and economic issue in Australia and New Zealand, particularly for young people in rural areas. Many families have seen their children leave the country for employment and opportunities offered in the city. This flow must be reduced, otherwise we will have no people to provide the goods and services that we all rely on to survive.

Diversification of rural industry appears to be the key to survival in today’s economic and social climate. Tourism, particularly in country areas, can work extremely well as a companion industry to existing rural businesses by, for example, providing accommodation and farm-stays on a working property. However, if you decide to diversify into tourism, you need to make sure that the enterprises do not conflict, such as at harvesting times, when everyone needs to be out in the paddock, not looking after tourists. By considering these elements in your business plan and introducing some simple systems and controls for each activity, such problems can be avoided. This issue is covered in Chapter 6.

Tourism, and particularly ecotourism, with its focus on natural resources, has the potential to generate a wide range of jobs for young people in remote and rural communities, enabling them to remain in the country. It is one of the fastest growing industries in Australia and New Zealand, overtaking traditional exports such as coal, meat and wool (all rural-based commodities) as Australia’s largest export earner. Recent estimates from the World Travel and Tourism Commission show that travel and tourism generate the equivalent of one million jobs in Australia and 200,000 in New Zealand — this is obviously an area that needs to be treated seriously.

So, what is a tourism product? Broadly speaking, it is anything that can be offered to people for their interest, purchase, use, or consumption that may satisfy a need. It can include actual objects, services, places, people, organisations and ideas. This definition covers just about anything you can think of, as tourism can relate to everything we do. Although you may think your day-to-day work would not interest anyone else, somewhere out there a group of people is very likely fascinated by road-building, fencing, selling rural produce, fruit growing or wheat production. The same is true for the environment — the natural assets that we take for granted are often major reasons for a person to visit our area.

Chapters 1 and 2 look at what ecotourism is, the special characteristics of ecotourists, and explains the connection between the environment and tourism generally, as well as in ecotourism.

Most tourism is really just showing off things that are already there, and in the case of ecotourism this is your own natural, local environment. For example, your property may be near a significant natural site or environment such as a National Park, World Heritage Area, Conservation Zone or an unusual natural phenomenon. You may even have significant natural attractions on your own property, such as wildlife, landscape, native bushland, spectacular views, beautiful river sites or heritage areas. Even land that has been degraded through inappropriate farming, mining, logging or natural causes, and is being restored can be a natural attraction, particularly if it is part of a local Land Care program. This case is considered in Chapter 4,

The next step, examined in Chapter 5, is Working with the Environment. This section includes information on building design and environmental regulations, which can be used in any aspect of your business, be it tourism, ecotourism or farming. So, are you suited to running a tourism business? Chapter 6 examines the personal attributes needed by a tourism operator, in particular communication, people and hosting skills. If you are not comfortable with people and disruption to your work and home routines, you may need to reconsider your decision to get into tourism, which is a highly personalised people business. One solution could be to employ skilled staff or go into partnership with someone whose skills suitably complement yours.

Unplanned tourism growth can create as many problems as it solves, and one of the aims of this book is to assist you in planning and developing your tourism venture (be it eco or any other type) so that the benefits can be achieved. Also, just as with farming where crops or stock would not be introduced without the right conditions, similarly ecotourism cannot be introduced where the environment is not able to sustain it, or where the impact on the local community would clearly be adverse, or there is insufficient interest in the product.

For example, while ecotourism will create employment, if the community does not have the appropriate skills they either have to learn them or import other people to do the work. Bringing new people in may encourage a growth in support industries to service their needs, but may also displace the local population, creating more problems than before. Chapter 3 considers such positive and negative social impacts, emphasising the importance of both indigenous and non-indigenous community involvement in tourism.

On a more positive note, Australia leads the world in many ecotourism areas, such as industry accreditation (a world first, discussed in Chapter 6), training and government commitment, at local, regional, state and federal levels.

Of course, even if your ecotourism venture is environmentally and socially sustainable, it must also be economically sustainable. The bottom line is covered in Chapter 7.

This book is intended to provide an overall understanding of ecotourism and the broader tourism industry. As such it includes many Australian and New Zealand case studies and examples of operators who are achieving in different areas. The book has been written with the rural person in mind, and with its theoretical elements built firmly on a practical basis it should also be of interest to students of tourism and the environment.

The contact details in Appendix Three are as up-to-date as possible, and provide both the operator and student with extensive sources of further information. Many of the organisations have been contacted during the course of researching and writing this book and have been extremely helpful in providing information, much of which is listed in the References. This section provides suggestions for further reading with some comments about the extent to which each reference was used in this publication and the degree of additional information it may provide.

For many of you this will be the beginning of a journey that I hope will take you further than you thought possible!

1 What is Ecotourism?


The term ecotourism has already been referred to a few times, but what does it mean? The term was first used by Hector Ceballos-Lascurain in Mexico in 1988, and since then much heated debate has occurred about what it should mean and how it is actually being used by tourism operators. Some tourism operators use the word ecotourism purely as a marketing and advertising tool without offering their customers any type of environmental experience. The debate, which will probably continue in academic circles for ever, makes a great essay topic for students. However, there is some general agreement on the elements of ecotourism, of which there are three main ones:

1. Ecotourism is nature-based (occurs in a natural setting)

2. It is educative

3. It is managed in a sustainable manner

These elements will be examined in more detail in later chapters, but a brief overview is provided here to introduce these important concepts.

1 Nature-Based

This is the eco (ecological, not economic) element of ecotourism, and is really self-explanatory. Without some reference to nature and the environment, a tourism operation could not be considered ecological. Nature-based refers to both the flora and fauna of an area, and can be associated with environments that have been modified by man. For example, on a farm where parts of the land are being restored to some form of natural environment, by for example, restoring eroded river banks, this work could be regarded as nature-based. While the main reason for the work may be economic and agricultural, the attendant environmental benefits could become part of an ecotourism product.

Not all nature-based tourism is regarded as ecotourism — it must also include the other two elements, education and sustainability.

2 Education and Interpretation

With the increased interest in (and number of) nature-based documentaries on television and in other parts of the media, as well as a shift in education towards the environment, many people are becoming more socially and environmentally aware. As tourists travel more widely, they are becoming more adventurous and more questioning about what they see. Many people want tourism experiences where they are provided with information that helps them to understand the places they visit.

It is no longer possible to ferry tourists around in a bus, with a few obligatory photo stops, without providing other information. They are interested in what they see and want to know more, not only about the natural environment, but also about indigenous heritage and cultural aspects of the region. Ecotourism plays a particular role in this area, with the provision of information and other learning opportunities being integral to the product, not an afterthought.

However, this educational component must still be provided in an interesting manner — after all, the ecotourist is on a holiday. Many operators include personal knowledge, employ specialists as required (such as botanists, biologists etc) and carry a good reference library that they and their guests can use.

3 Sustainable Management

All tourism, not just ecotourism, should be handled in an environmentally sustainable manner. Apart from considerations about our responsibility towards the future of the planet, we are responsible for the future of our tourism businesses — if we destroy the natural attractions and environment that people came to experience, they will go elsewhere.

Sustainable management means managing the physical stresses on the environment, such as the number of people and the way they behave, by introducing minimal impact techniques of waste disposal and minimisation, and minimisation of energy use. Issues related to souveniring items and interfering with wildlife are also part of sustainable management. Some tourism operators have developed creative solutions to resolve some of these difficult problems and this area is covered in some detail in Chapters 4 and 5.

However, sustainability refers not only to the natural environment. Those involved in ecotourism recognise the need for local communities to benefit from tourism, and the aim to sustain the well-being (both culturally and financially) of local people is an important aspect of the ecotourism philosophy. This can be achieved by purchasing goods and services locally and employing as many local staff as possible, as well as through personal financial and time commitments. For example, an ecotourism operator may be on the local tourism association board, chamber of commerce, scout group, land care group, or provide money or physical services to conservation and other community projects.

Practising What They Preach

Award-winning New Zealand ecotourism operator, Catlins Wildlife Trackers Ecotours, takes its conservation commitments seriously. While on tours, guides make wildlife observations, trap predators and remove weeds. They also run a series of workshops that focus on practical ways to assist in a specific area, such as rare plant restoration and conservation, and penguin conservation. These are working holidays where guests provide their services to specific programs on a voluntary basis. By offering practical assistance the company is able to support local conservation programs in a way that is also interesting to their clients.

As well ill commercial ecotour operators. volunteer environmental groups such as the Australian and New Zealand Scientific Exploration Society, the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and Earthwatch, also run scientific expeditions. Their contact details are in Appendix Three.

A relatively simple definition of ecotourism that covers all the aspects outlined above has been adopted by the Ecotourism Association of Australia:

Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.

Many academic papers look at other definitions and complexities. If you are interested in more information on the search for a definition of ecotourism, some papers are listed in the References.

While researching the tourism industry, you will come across references to other types of tourism, such as rural tourism, nature-based tourism, farm tourism, adventure tourism, industrial tourism, indigenous tourism, cultural tourism and so on. It can be confusing working out where ecotourism fits in to the picture, but basically it is part of the broader rural or nature-based tourism industry. Also included in the rural and nature-based area would be farm tourism and adventure tourism (and possibly indigenous tourism), elements of which can be incorporated into ecotourism. The main difference between ecotourism and other types of tourism that are based in the natural environment is the educational aspect and its associated ethical stand of supporting and encouraging ongoing conservation and direct benefits to the local community.

So, if you are thinking about starting any other type of tourism enterprise (such as adventure or farmstay) this book will still be useful as many of the areas covered here will be relevant and transferable to your enterprise. The concept of ecological sustainability is not just for ecotourism — all tourism must be sustainable, both ecologically, socially and economically.

How Big is Ecotourism?

As part of the overall tourism industry, ecotourism is regarded as a niche enterprise that caters for particular interests of certain tourists. It has only been recognised as a separate form of tourism for the past ten years, so it is certainly not as old as, say, cultural tours of Europe. Although it is still relatively small in numbers, it shows a higher rate of growth than any other tourism niche market.

The emergence of a conservation ethic in most western societies has encouraged the development and growth of ecotourism. Although statistics on ecotourism are not easy to obtain, the world Tourism Organisation predicts that by 2000 most of the increase in worldwide tourism will come from active, nature and culture-related travel, while other reports indicate a 25–30 per cent growth in nature-based tourism (with tourism in general growing at around 7–8 per cent). In Australia the number of international visitors from 1989 to 1994 undertaking a bushwalk increased by 60 per cent, and the number who went on a safari tour increased by 70 per cent. Although this growth comes from a relatively small base, it certainly indicates a fantastic potential.

In 1995 Australia had 600 identified ecotourism operators, employing the equivalent of 4,500 full-time staff. These businesses had a combined annual turnover of $250 million, and their growth is expected to double by 2000.

Types of Ecotourism Development

Regardless of where or how they are travelling, tourists need to be accommodated, whether it be in commercial accommodation or with friends and relatives (known as VFR — visiting friends and relatives). An enormous range of tourist accommodation can be incorporated into an ecotourism product:

eco-resorts (medium to large scale)

purpose-built campsites, both permanent and semi-permanent

caravan parks

bed and breakfast (B&Bs)

lodge/backpacker hostels

guest houses




house boats


cruising vessels

As well as utilising existing natural resources such as those found in national parks, ecotourism projects can also create attractions, such as:

sanctuaries (can be privately as well as publicly owned and managed)

aquariums and zoos (not all these are eco)

education, information and interpretation centres

outdoor museums providing natural as well as cultural heritage Considerable infrastructure may be required to run an ecotour, such as:



hardened pathways, steps

barbeque and picnic facilities

pontoons/anchor points

restaurants and cafes


interpretation centres

toilet facilities

car parking facilities

Local councils and land management agencies provide much of this infrastructure, particularly in national parks, but it is something that needs to be considered when planning tours, particularly if you are using privately owned land.

Chapter 5 covers the concepts of environmental design, building and development.

Range of Ecotourism Activities

Ecotourism includes many activities that are common to other forms of tourism. They are differentiated by the underlying philosophy and education components. For example, photography could be part of any tourism activity (and usually is), but when it is combined with information on what is being photographed and opportunities to experience the environment it becomes an ecotour activity.

Other ecotourism activities could include sightseeing, bushwalking, camping, wild flower viewing, bird watching, wildlife viewing, night walks, special interest scientific tours (for botanists, ornithologists, geographers, historians etc), and adventure based tours such as cross-country skiing, white water rafting, and mountaineering.

Even if a tourist only spends part of their holiday on an ecotourism activity (say one or two days), they are still considered as ecotourists because they have undertaken that activity and shown an interest in the ethics and concepts of ecotourism. They are often referred to as soft ecotourists, whereas a tourist spending most of their trip on ecotourism activities is considered to be a hard ecotourist. of ecotourism. They are often referred to as soft ecotourists, whereas a tourist spending most of their trip on ecotourism activities is considered to be a hard ecotourist.

Ecotourism: Many Different Activities

Catlins Wildlife Trackers Ecotours offers a wide range of activities, including:

• Observing and learning about New Zealand sea lions and fur seals

• Observing and learning about yellow eyed and little blue penguins

• Observing and learning about sea birds, such as gulls, terns, shags, and sooty shearwaters

• Observing and learning about wader birds, such as oyster catchers, stilts, herons, godwits, and royal spoonbills

• Observing and learning about forest birds, such as bellbirds, fantails, tomtits, tuis, and wood pigeons ...

• Observing and learning about rare or seldom seen birds, such as yellow heads, fern birds, and kingfishers

• Observing and learning about spiders, wetas, glow worms and other creatures

• Star gazing, and learning about the southern sky

• Beach walking, looking at and learning about seaweeds and shells

• Walking the cliff tops, and learning about the formation of the land

• Forest walking, and learning about NZ native forests, beech and podocarp

• Visiting and learning about early Maori historic sites

• Visiting and learning about early European settlement sites, the old railway, the railway, the railway tunnel, and historic sawmilling relics

• Visiting waterfalls

• Visiting lake waterfalls

• Visiting lake Wilkie and learning about the development of podocarp forest

• Visiting caves of various sizes

• Fossil finding and geologising

• Learning about the river environment while boating, kayakaing or snorkelling

• Swimming and body surfing

• Learning about the marine envornment and kelp forest while snorkelling

• Exploring rock pools and the intertidal zone

• Reading, from our extensive library with its emphasis on natural history and local history

• Contributing to conservation by collecting litter, keeping observation records, protecting rare plants

• Eating, drinking and talking

• watching the sun rise

• walking on the moonlit beach

• Observing Hectors dolphins

• Observing elephant seals

• Observing albatross at sea

• Climbing hills

• Playing with lego or Cloudberry. the sausage dog

• Relaxing

From Catlins WWW site (http://www.es.co.nz/~catlinw/home.htm)

Benefits for Local Communities

Ecotourism has the potential to increase the value of tourism to the local economy. At the same time, it can improve the experience of visitors and provide a positive force to assist in the conservation of resources and local communities, both indigenous and non-indigenous.

Economic Benefits

Tourism in general, and ecotourism in particular, can diversify and increase the rate base of a community by encouraging new businesses to establish, and by bringing people into the area. This injects new money from outside the region into the local economy, and flows through to the residents in terms of increased employment, new business opportunities, better educational and recreational facilities, residential development and cultural opportunities.

The National Ecotourism Strategy released in 1994 by the Commonwealth Department of Tourism identified the following economic benefits attributable to ecotourism:

growth of employment in the area

distribution of income directly to regional and local communities via goods and services

tendency of greater length of stay by ecotourists as compared with tourists generally

local infrastructure development

generation of income for conservation and public land management through permit fees

additional foreign exchange earnings

1 Growth of Employment in the Area

An estimated 55 jobs are created for every 1000 additional international tourists, and a similar ratio would apply for domestic tourists. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, ecotourism employment has increased by 131 per cent since 1988, most of it in local regional areas, working in small service businesses and product suppliers (retail shops, service stations, hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts, tour operators and guides).

Although many ecotourism operators are small, family-based businesses employing a limited number of full-time staff, they provide employment indirectly by purchasing goods and services locally.

With most ecotour operators utilising publicly-owned land and infrastructure such as national parks, state forests, parks service information and interpretation centres, an increase in associated jobs including rangers, council staff, labourers, garbage collectors, builders and plumbers is required to maintain the tracks and park facilities. Most of these positions are likely to

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