The Argument for Ecotourism

Some people view ecotourism is a successful development tool that discourages illegal, environmentally damaging and risky activities such as bushmeat hunting, the use of endangered species in traditional medicine, and deforestation. This is the perspective shared by Cate Twining-Ward and Colin A. Chapman on PlanetForward in the article, “Engineering Uganda’s conservation future to prevent the next pandemic”. The article mentions the wildlife origins and gruesome death and infection tolls of COVID-19 and AIDS, as well as the Ebola outbreak. It then compares these numbers to the amount of forest lost globally, human population growth, global consumption rates, and general corporate and individual greed. “There is simply no replacement for the money that tourism normally provides to run protected areas”, the article argues. Because of the link between wildlife hunting and the transfer of zoonotic disease, better monitoring of these illegal activities due to ecotourism could have a positive impact on public health. Park rangers can also monitor hunting of more common animals like deer, which can be damaging because tracking and catching animals can interfere with mountain gorillas as is the case with Kibale National Park of Uganda. The article tells of a dominant male gorilla at Kibale National Park killed in an accidental confrontation with a deer hunter. The loss of a dominant male gorilla may cause the rest of its group to split and infant gorillas to die.

Image of Kibale National Park in Uganda from Culture Trip.

Many more articles supporting ecotourism are featured on PlanetForward, such as “Ecotourism: Adventures that shed the carbon footprint”, “How virtual ecotourism can revolutionize travel during COVID-19”, and “Sustainability in Costa Rica”, amongst others. An ecotourism trip to Panama is described in the first article as a vacation with low environmental impact. Hiking, swimming, and diving in a small town are key features of ecotourism, compared to the massive beach resorts, binge drinking, eating, and relaxing that is advertised with mass tourism. Ecotourists live in tents, eat farm-to-table foods, and leave with a renewed sense of connection with the planet. Care is taken to remove food smells and prevent animals from getting used to human presence. Although the carbon footprint of air travel is brought up, so is the realistic point that people will never stop traveling. 

Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving responsible travel to natural areas, conserving the environment, and improving the well-being of the local people.[1] Its purpose may be to educate the traveler, to provide funds for ecological conservation, to directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, or to foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. Since the 1980s, ecotourism has been considered a critical endeavor by environmentalists, so that future generations may experience destinations relatively untouched by human intervention.[2] Several university programs use this description as the working definition of ecotourism.[3]” – Wikipedia

Photo by James Wheeler on

Locally controlled ecotourism programs are also more successful for development, as described in the 2016 article “Modernization theory, ecotourism policy, and sustainable development for poor countries of the global South: perspectives from Nepal” by Regmi. Community-based ecotourism has potential to promote environmental conservation and local livelihood while also preserving Indigenous and traditional cultures. This is done by allowing local people to make the decisions as they relate to small-scale tourism and spreading ecotourism profits around the community. The World Trade Organization and United Nation’s Environment Program and other ecotourism-related organizations openly support community-based ecotourism.

The Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal is a successful “ecotourism for development” story. Ecotourism in this area of Nepal has led to sanitation management resulting from organized village cleanup, garbage control, toilet construction, trail and bridge construction and maintenance, and access to drinking water. Several factors have improved economic and social equality for Indigenous and poor women in Nepal, Moreover, for indigenous and poor women in Nepal, such as empowerment projects in the Himalayan trekking industry, ecotourism homestay, and guesthouse ownership. Income generation for women can also reduce political and ethnic disparity and lead to wider community development. Marginalized women can also leave risky situations of indentured servitude or male violence to become successful mountaineering or trekking guides with the aid of organizations like Empowering Women of Nepal, in Pokhara.

Annapurna Conservation Area - Protected Areas of Nepal - Tiger Encounter |  Tiger Encounter
Photograph of hikers at the Annapurna Conservation Area from Tiger Encounter.

Ecotourism can also come with educational benefits. Visitors and community members can learn together about environmental, cultural, and livelihood issues. Traditional environmental knowledge can be protected and expanded through connection with land. The protection of ecosystems for tourism will also result in the protection of foods, medicines, vitamins, minerals, threads, building materials, and ritual and spiritual customs. Finally, there is the clear environmental benefit of ecotourism. Many ecotourism hotspots are also biodiversity hotspots, and revenues from tourism can go directly towards conservation. Community involvement can increase the accountability for sustainability.

This post is one in a series of four about ecotourism. Follow the blog to be notified when the other articles are posted and to discover my viewpoint and share yours at the end!

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