Ecotourism is an enlightening and participatory travel experience to environments, both natural and cultural, that ensures the sustainable use, at an appropriate level, of environmental resources. While producing viable economic opportunities for the tourism industry and host communities, it makes use of these resources through conservation beneficial to all tourism role players. It is one of the tools whereby people are encouraged to visit natural beauty of forests, national parks, wild life and bird sanctuaries, rural and tribal habitats and to promote action to conserve them. It is about striking harmonious synergy between cause of biodiversity conservation, aspirations of local communities and need for sustainable travel. It encompasses visitors in a way that is minimally intrusive to the environment and sustains as well as supports the native culture.
Ecotourism as one of the important themes of tourism has shown signs of its contribution globally, towards protection of environment through resource conservation and has also enhanced the economic growth of the regions which have effectively adopted it. Various environmental experts have analysed that in the beginnings of 1990s, ecotourism has been growing 20 to 34 per cent per year globally. Analysts have also predicted a growth in eco-resorts and hotels, and a boom in nature tourism – a sector already growing at 20 per cent a year – and suggested early converts to sustainable tourism will enhance market growth.
The eco-tourists who are visiting a destination for the first time go through all stages in the decision-making process and extensive information search before choosing the destination to visit. Eco-tourists who have visited the destination in the past, go through only some of the stages and limited information search. Eco-tourists’ choice of an ecotourism destination is influenced by factors such as, family, friends, societal values, preferences, safety and promotions related to the destination. Decision regarding re-visiting an ecotourism destination depends on the level of satisfaction that the eco-tourist experienced during his or her first time visit to the destination. Eco-tourists who are satisfied with the ecotourism destination during their first-time visit are likely to re-visit the destination but those who are not satisfied will avoid visiting that destination again. For ecotourism managers to sustain the inflow of eco-tourists to different ecotourism destinations and revenue in the ecotourism industry it is important for the managers to strive towards meeting expectations of eco-tourists and make information regarding the destinations more accessible.
According to the decision-making model (Solomon et al., 2006), the eco-tourist decision-making process comprises: 1) Need recognition i.e. the potential eco- tourist identifies the need to change environment. It can be stimulated by market information such as advertisement of the ecotourism destination. It can also be stimulated by relatives, friends and culture e.g. most European eco-tourists have the culture of travelling to ecotourism destinations during the summer. 2) Information search; once the need to travel is aroused the potential eco-tourist searches for information regarding ecotourism destinations. The information may be acquired from friends, internet, travel agencies and individual’s memory. 3) Evaluation of the available ecotourism destinations; the potential eco-tourist makes an assessment of the available alternatives. He or she attempts to rank the potential destinations in order of preference. 4) Purchase decision; the eco-tourist chooses the most preferred ecotourism destination from the available alternatives. The choice of the destination is often determined by the criteria that the eco-tourist uses in the course of selection. Price, friends, family and culture can also influence the choice. 5) Post purchase behaviour; if the eco-tourist is satisfied with his or her trip to an ecotourism destination the eco-tourist will likely re-visit the same destination.
Ecotourism industry is a stable/regular source of revenue in case it can attract visitors on a regular basis and attract repeaters to the destination by continuously enhancing new features in the destination pertaining to ecotourism values.
Challenges of Promoting Ecotourism
- Ensuring that there are real and long lasting economic contributions to conservation
- Ensuring that ecotourism delivers effective interpretation of environmental, cultural and resource management values.
- As a destination’s popularity grows, resources sometimes become overtaxed, and natural attractions suffer from overuse. Human visitors can disrupt wildlife, resulting in changes to their feeding and mating habits.
- Cultural exploitation and deterioration also can result from ecotourism.
- Concrete strategies for ecotourism development in various developing countries are, in fact, challenging issue.
- To implement effective ecotourism development is a great challenge, because we have to take into account in various issues like eco-business and eco-marketing strategy, sustainable energy systems, proper waste management, respect of human and animal rights, women’s empowerment, sustainable consumption systems, political instability and controlled corruption, power and benefit sharing among rich and poor, management of conflict among interest groups and controlling social problems.
India, a country with ample ecotourism resources and suitable environment has an immense potential for the development of ecotourism. India has an area of about 752.3 lakh hectares notified as forestland and of this about 406.1 lakh hectares are classified as Reserve Forests and 215.1 lakh hectares as Protected Forests. It can make effective utilization of the resources and can carve a niche in this area if the marketing and environment protection aspects are taken care at this stage of introduction in the country so that Indian ecotourism can be brought on the world ecotourism map.
Dr. Pooja Chopra is the Founder Director, Orlina Ventures Pvt. Ltd. (www.orlinaventures.com). She is MBA (Marketing), Ph.D. in Management (Research area Ecotourism) and Masters in Environment Management from Yale University, USA. She could be reached at email@example.com.