Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference
Preparatory Conference for the International Year of Ecotourism
April 1-26, 2002
Over the past two decades ecotourism
activities have expanded rapidly and further growth is expected in the future.
Recognizing its global importance, the United Nations designated the year 2002
as the International Year of Ecotourism, and its Commission on Sustainable
Development requested international agencies, governments and the private
sector to undertake supportive activities.
In this framework
the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP) organized a pioneering forum that was conducted solely online
the Internet. The Conference was developed and moderated by Ron Mader, author
and webhost of the Planeta.com website.
The prime objective
of the conference was to provide easy access for a wide range of stakeholders
involved in ecotourism to exchange experiences and voice comments, especially
for those who had not been able to attend the regional preparatory conferences
that had taken place in the past year.
The experience and
results derived from the Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference
will be presented at the World Ecotourism Summit in Quebec, Canada (19-22 May
More than 900
stakeholders from 97 countries participated in this Conference, representing
international, public and private organizations, NGOs, academic institutions
and local communities. During the event, more than 100 messages, received from
around 30 countries, were posted and archived for future reference.
Participants shared information through case studies, specific examples and
field experiences, and recommended resources for those interested in ecotourism
issues. Intensive debates developed on some messages, analyzing specific topics
from a range of views. Archives can be freely consulted online
asked to send messages in English, Spanish and French.
The discussion was
focused on four main themes defined for the World Ecotourism Summit, in four
thematic sessions addressed in each of the four weeks of the event:
Theme 1: Ecotourism Policy and Planning: The Sustainability
Theme 2: Regulation of Ecotourism: Institutional Responsibilities and
Theme 3: Product Development, Marketing and Promotion of Ecotourism: Fostering
Sustainable Products and Consumers
Theme 4: Monitoring Costs and Benefits of Ecotourism: Ensuring Equitable
Distribution among all Stakeholders
As in other preparatory conferences for
the World Ecotourism Summit, there was some overlap in the dialogue,
particularly at the beginning of each theme week. Participants often
consciously chose to mix their responses to various topics in a single post.
These messages provided particularly useful insights to the complex nature of
the ecotourism market.
A draft of this
summary report was circulated among participants for comments.
SUMMARY OF DISCUSSIONS
Throughout the four-week conference there
was a thoughtful dialogue about the complexities of ecotourism. Several
participants indicated that the process leading up to the World Ecotourism
Summit and the Summit itself present a major opportunity to promote mutually
reinforcing relationships that exist among tourism operations, conservation,
and local community development.
As ecotourism has
dramatically captured the attention of people around the world, there are many
expectations of what ecotourism can offer for a particular locality, as well
for larger regions and in the global environmental movement.
There was a
plethora of discussion about definitions that should be used in this field.
There was also a healthy dialogue about the type of ecotourism that can and
should be promoted. Discussions drew from the complexities of ecotourism
regulation, certification, product development and marketing. Of note were
repeated comments and dialogue about positive and negative impacts of tourism
on communities and local people.
There is a growing
concern that ecotourism is such a powerful force driven by the world's largest
industry and participants stressed that it is essential that the ecotourism
sector remains a low impact niche.
participants questioned whether travel could be considered a sustainable
activity, because of basic environmental impacts associated with the use of
motor vehicles and aircrafts. These questions led participants into a
productive dialogue about available information resources as well as the need
for continued study and the development of action plans.
Ecotourism Policy and Planning: The Sustainability Challenge
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on how effective
are ecotourism plans at the international, national and local levels in
promoting sustainable ecotourism. Among other questions, they were asked
whether ecotourism policies integrate with wider planning frameworks and what
is the most efficient way to balance conservation and development objectives in
Overview: Participants presented edited case
studies of ecotourism policy from Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Hungary, India,
Malaysia, Pakistan and Venezuela. Of special note were discussions that linked
successful management of protected areas to the inclusion of local people and
Comments and Conclusions
conceptual and practical workings of ecotourism have been isolated from
each other too long. Ecotourism development should focus on action plans
and not become, as one participant complained, "bogged down" in
promoted by single organizations with single objectives, without involving
all stakeholder groups affected, lead to poorly balanced strategies.
Governments, environmental and social groups, the private sector,
academics and local communities need to work jointly towards the
development of effective ecotourism policies.
governments' role in ecotourism development is to provide the overall
policy environment to permit development to proceed along an orderly path.
This framework needs to clearly involve and welcome participation of other
sectors. Ecotourism plans should be widely circulated among community
members, NGOs, government agencies, travel companies and other
has been a lag in governmental response to development that threatens
conservation of protected areas at many destinations. Obstacles include a
lack of qualified personnel, lack of continuity and lack of interest in
small scale ecotourism operations.
making lies often in the hands of people with limited field business
experience. This leads to regulations that are not feasible at the ground
level and consequently are not implemented. Said one participant:
"The cycle of impossible laws, blatant non-compliance, corruption and
disbelief in the legal system is a constraint for businesses aiming at
ecotourism operations in a sustainable way. Therefore, policy is often incongruous
with reality." When policy makers do not have the background in this
field or experience in the local area, there is a need to teach policy
makers so that policies reflect social and environmental concerns as well
as market realities.
directives are often unimplemented because of lack of cross sector
commitment from various ministries or lack of continuity. High turn-over
and poor communication between government offices were cited as chief
causes of this problem.
national level policies are important to ecotourism, development takes
place at the local level. Local authorities play a key role, and in many
localities a bottom-up approach to ecotourism planning is desirable. There
is a great need for cooperation between authorities at different levels.
Also, legal standards need to be integrated so that the structure supports
the development of ecotourism
plans need to identify financial sources and financing mechanisms for
local, regional and national programs and cultivate these resources for
long-term investment. Ecotourism projects rarely succeed as quickly or as
profitably as other sectors, so ecotourism requires long-term financial
operations may cause a negative impact on local populations. Tourism can
drive up local prices and force locals to move away or restrictive
policies lead businesses to develop operations elsewhere. Ecotourism for
protected areas must bring indirect conflict resolution with local
people/stakeholders, education for visitors; financial income from tourism
for communities living within or adjacent to those areas.
- It is to
everyone's advantage that nature based tourism operations move
increasingly towards adoption of the principles of ecotourism, to ensure
that sensitive natural areas are conserved and local community and
cultural benefits are maximized.
Regulation of Ecotourism: Institutional Responsibilities and Frameworks
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on how policies
and plans can be implemented and what are the positive and negative effects of
these regulations on stakeholders and on the environment of ecotourism sites?
Among other issues, they were asked about what the role is and could be of
ecotourism certification and who benefits from such programs.
Overview: Participants provided numerous examples
about regulation, including detailed essays about tourism certification in
Brazil, tourism legislation in Venezuela and community tourism in Ecuador.
Others noted the absence of legal mechanisms ensuring repayment of economic
activity income to the protected area. Participants also brought up the pros
and cons of certification programs.
Comments and Conclusions
regulation is too strict it can hamper competitiveness, and operators or
countries can be placed at a disadvantage. On the other hand, if consumers
place an economic value on healthy ecosystems, the market will drive all
operators to achieve higher levels of environmental stewardship.
will not work effectively if the community, the tour operator, tour guide
and tourists themselves do not share the same concept of ecotourism. The
concepts must be relevant to all stakeholders. Successful ecotourism
development requires agreements on definitions and consistent legislation.
certification programs need to inform the traveling public about
ecotourism products and services. Certification and accreditation should
include as a priority a campaign and a coalition of media and
communication professionals that effectively deliver the message. If
clients are not requesting certification standards, one participant argued
the practice may be "putting the cart before the horse."
participants noted that even if certification schemes are not sought by
tourism consumers, business-to-business operations do pursue them. Well
designed certification programs can help achieve the objectives of
ecotourism by providing incentives to certified ecotourism operators with
a marketing advantage.
broad-based coalitions have the best records for developing certification.
One example frequently cited is Australia's National Ecotourism
Accreditation Programme (NEAP) which has developed as the result of
multi-sector discussions among the government, private sector and
Product Development, Marketing and Promotion of
Ecotourism: Fostering Sustainable Products and Consumers
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on challenges and
opportunities of ecotourism product development and marketing. Among other questions,
Participants were asked what role is played by public and private protected
area managers and the private sector. Also, what marketing and promotional
techniques have proven to be effective and how participants saw the role of
transnational corporations, hotel chains and franchises in facilitating
sustainable tourism development and supporting local tourism businesses.
Overview: Participants recounted examples about
product development and marketing in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile,
Ecuador, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
A lively discussion
over competing versions of ecotourism that needed to be promoted emerged during
the third week. As one participant commented: "Like the environmental
movement, there is room in ecotourism for many different styles. Just as a road
protester chaining himself to a tree and a lawyer in a three-piece suit may be
fighting for the same thing, and they are both necessary and worthwhile,
ecotourism needs both the high-end, no microphones, one-at-a-time operator and
the more mainstream, wholesale crowd pleaser."
Not surprising for
a conference conducted online, participants discussed the role of Internet in
ecotourism development, particularly in marketing and promotion. Participants
agreed that, particularly in this niche market of ecotourism and responsible
travel, websites play an important role in developing consumer awareness and
environmental education. Several website directors explained their operations.
Of note were suggestions of how travelers could review the tour operators on
the web, enforcing the standards of the operators. Other sites encourage a
regional dialogue among stakeholders. Participants also noted that improved
access and training will be necessary to "bridge the digital divide"
as many parts of the world are less wired than others.
Comments and Conclusions
consumers is key to raising awareness and stimulating demand for socially-
and environmentally-friendly products and services. The hardest sale to make
is to the first-time ecotourist. As one participants argued: "Once
people have a chance to stay in an ecolodge and to use guided services,
they are likely to become loyal customers."
stimulation for ecologically sensitive products should be the key driver
to improving ecotourism. One participant said, "This should be done
through customer education rather than through regulation."
coverage does not adequately address the substance of ecotourism. One
example: nature shows often focuses on dangerous animals or scenic
landscapes and leave out the human part of the equation.
needs to be accurate. For example, if a sign reads that a path is 1
kilometer when in reality it is two or if at the end of a hike the
expected meal or refreshment is not ready, the reputation of the tour is
damaged by not meeting the expectations of the traveler. If the service
does not meet expectations, the situation has the potential to harm the
reputation of all regional operations.
principal aim of an ecotourism business should be achieving high levels of
satisfaction among its clients by providing quality services and
contributing to the conservation of the natural and cultural resources.
to develop and promote ecotourism are frequently divided among private
sector and government programs. In Ecuador, for example, the past three
years have seen stronger cooperation and improved results.
Internet is a highly efficient, cheap and ecological way for communities
to reach and be reached by ecotourists directly. The challenge lies in
bridging the digital divide and providing the training required by
communities to master this medium. Patience and continuity are key
ingredients for success. If such training is not provided, the Internet
will not fulfill its promise of leveling the small vs. large operator
promotional playing field.
experience of ecotourism operations that have successfully promoted their
products and services online show that the Internet is a powerful tool for
even the smallest operations. Regular access has been shown to help
communities communicate and share information.
tourism offices, environmental groups and companies need to improve their
use of the Web as soon as possible.
increasing use of Internet by ecotourists was demonstrated, for example,
through the Rural Ecotourism Assessment Project in Belize where tourists
were asked what types of marketing they had encountered pre-trip, and more
than two thirds said they had encountered web sites, second only to word
- There is
an untapped potential in Internet cafes in tourist centers. One
participant suggested that cybercafe computers could "have a start
page directing travelers to information on local sites or to a central
comments underlined the inherent need for ecotourism marketing in
development projects and operations, as a basic component for economic
sustainability. One participant warned: "Noble, well-intentioned
ecotourism programs fail if the heralded ecotourists do not arrive."
the definition of ecotourism is vague, ecotourism developers and consumers
are challenged by what the marketing message should be.
- A good
marketing plan should include a well-balanced, multi-media approach. Use
of the Web should be complimented with traditional marketing.
operations need educated, empowered and inspired travelers. For this tour
operators and service providers should inform and educate consumers they
depart for a trip, or even before they make decision and book for a trip.
don't want to be just "educated." As one participant stated:
"They want to have a safe, interesting vacation, worth their money
tourism market is complex and there is no static profile of the
results of investigations, and assessments of the "ecotourism
market" are widely divergent, as survey methods and sources of
information are varied. WTO researched existing market data as part of its
Ecotourism Market Study Series, conducted in the 7 major ecotourism
generating countries of Europe and North America. For example, the 1994
Ecotourism-Nature/Adventure/Culture: Alberta and British Columbia (Canada)
Market Demand Assessment suggested that there was an ecotourism market of
13.2 million travelers (representing 77% of all respondents) in just seven
of the major urban areas in North America. The ecotourism definition used
was "tourism related to nature/adventure/culture in the
countryside". An In-Flight Survey on US travelers to overseas and
Mexico, conducted by the US Department of Commerce in 1996 and 1999
suggests that the market represents 4% of US international travelers, and
they spend less on average than the typical US traveler. This survey used
the qualification that the ecotourists had to have participated in
environmental or ecological excursions. In conclusion, it is necessary to
further improve and coordinate ecotourism market research activities to
provide more complete data on market trends. WTO applied a coordinated
research methodology for its Ecotourism Market Study Series that implied
surveys with specialized tour operators and tourists, in addition to the
analysis of existing market data, in each country markets.
a product requires understanding client needs and a level of education and
marketing that promotes the products and services in the niche of
ecotourism. Marketing, however, is never as simple as "build it and
they will come." Many planners working in product development don't
have a clear idea of market competition. Citing work in the Amazon, one
participant questioned the efficiency of a community-prepared brochure:
"People have the idea that if they have a nice waterfall, it alone is
worth the time for foreigners to visit."
travel is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the
world. According to one participant, "on an eight hour flight, each
passenger is responsible for releasing the equivalent of one ton of carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere. If ecotourism is to be sustainable, it needs
to address the aviation issue and give travelers the option of doing
something to repair the damage they do." Other participants added
that the entire scope of transportation needs to be evaluated.
Monitoring Costs and Benefits of Ecotourism: Ensuring
Equitable Distribution among all Stakeholders
Questions: Participants were asked to reflect on how the
principles of ecotourism could be measured and monitored. Among other
questions, they were asked for field experience and ideas on how local steward
communities, park personnel, tourists and tour operators participate in
Overview: Case studies of monitoring costs and
benefits were provided from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Georgia,
Hungary, Iceland, India, Mexico, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and
Comments and Conclusions
- It is
necessary to have widely accepted terms of a definition for ecotourism and
some consistent standards for the proper evaluation of the costs and
benefits of ecotourism.
difficult to imagine effective cost/benefit analysis without developing
adequate baseline data, research mechanisms, or improving basic
information sharing as quickly as possible. Those developing or investing
in ecotourism need to share information about the successes and failures
of projects integrating nature tourism and conservation.
costs and benefits of ecotourism are often social, so these factors need
to be included in a holistic monitoring program. "There is no easy
model to evaluate all the true costs and benefits beyond the financial
value," said one participant, adding that the full payoff may be many
years down the road.
talking about indicators, it is clear that they must be developed by all
the project's stakeholders. In terms of the environment and local
cultures, ecotourism destinations tend to be fragile areas. Consequently,
contacts must bridge environmental and tourism interests. Examples were
given from case studies at Lake Balaton, Hungary and the Valdes Peninsula,
Argentina, from workshops and pilot projects conducted by WTO on
sustainable tourism indicators. WTO has established a task force to
prepare a new manual on the identification and application of
sustainability indicators in tourism development.
need to implement a system of monitoring in potential development areas
and have a comprehensive action plan to respond to a development boom in
ecologically sensitive areas and the surrounding communities. Satellite
accounting, being developed under the coordination of World Tourism
Organization offers a number of benefits to measure the impacts of
developing countries are particularly weak in providing access to timely
information about current developments, investment opportunities,
guidelines and best case examples. These resources need to be available
for all stakeholders and written in a language directed toward their
are both positive and negative implications for local ecotourism
businesses working with transnationals. Local ecotourism business could
benefit from partnerships with transnationals and bigger companies.The
role of the transnational tourism company or hotel chain can be one of
partner, competitor or investor. The ecotourism operator has some power
over how the big companies will operate. One participant advised that
"the operator must learn to think like a transnational" in order
to work with them. Another participant said that "transnational does
not necessarily mean enormous nor inhumane."
The Center for Sustainable Tourism at the
University of Colorado announced that is developing an online data bank, in
collaboration with UNEP and WTO, focusing on ecotourism/sustainable tourism. It
will contain a broad range of documents developed in the framework of the
International Year of Ecotourism by a wide range of organizations.
suggested developing a working group that could develop an initiative that
would promote the most effective means of communication among stakeholders.
Each would be responsible for updating their website with a minimum amount of
SPOTLIGHT ON COMMUNITY TOURISM
As a cross-cutting issue, community
tourism was addressed throughout the conference. Some participants argued that
ecotourism must stress the "maximum participation of local people" --
others questioned who could be considered a local.
Comments and Conclusions
that obtain income from ecotourism develop environmental awareness about
their own unique ecosystems. In a study funded by the International Labour
Organization in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, a participant noted that the
ecotourism activity has reinforced a process of ethnic awareness. Ecuador
has pursued this study with the creation of a database of all
community-based tourism operations.
ecotourism requires political organization. Said one participant:
"The emergence of community-based ecotourism projects is directly
linked to the political organization of indigenous and social movements.
These projects offer an alternative to fight against poverty, injustice,
discrimination and environmental destruction." Successful community-based
ecotourism requires a level of specialization that goes beyond "good
intentions." Another participant commented about working with
communities on ecotourism: "It's not enough to have specialization in
biology or anthropology, the process is long and requires a better
understanding of the tourism market and community dynamics."
to community-based ecotourism often include the lack of a legal framework,
promotion and marketing and interference from traditional industries that
can destroy the local environment.
that live in the areas of high biodiversity where community-based
ecotourism could be successful often do not have the financial resources
to get the training and supplies, infrastructure and vehicles to be
development projects often exclude local peoples. For example, one
participant pointed out that in the development of Mesoamerica's Plan
Puebla Panama, ecotourism development favors large hotel corporations and
not the indigenous federations or small scale initiatives.
community tourism may pose environmental harm while providing social
benefits. Said one participant: "I've seen a dolphin-watching
operation in north Bali, where the local community have democratically
worked out a system for sharing the economic benefits: no one can have
more than four people on their boat, so everyone gets to work. The result
is 50 boats and one pod of dolphins. The best thing that could happen for
these dolphins is for a multinational company to come along, put one or
two big boats in the water, employ all the locals and to do marketing.
There may be some unemployed, some of the profits might go elsewhere, but
the dolphins would be a lot safer."
local ecotourism ventures might complain that working with tour operators
and travel agents means sharing revenues with "outsiders.", but
as a participant stated: "As in other commercial sectors there are
middle men who bring buyers and sellers together. This is a legitimate
aboriginal or indigenous communities, ecotourism represents a development
opportunity that can bring many economic, environmental, cultural, social
and political benefits. Said one participant: "The key for Indigenous
communities to achieve these benefits is active involvement in, and
genuine control over, ecotourism initiatives within their traditional
territory. To achieve involvement and control, Indigenous communities must
be much more than token players receiving fringe employment or craft sales
involvement and control of ecotourism products and services by Indigenous
communities will not only benefit Indigenous peoples. One participant
wrote: "A vibrant and successful Indigenous ecotourism sector will
greatly strengthen ecotourism as a global industry. The richness and
diversity of Indigenous cultures and traditional knowledge is an
incredible resource for the ecotourism industry."
The following are general recommendations
that emerged during the Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference:
should balance top-down and bottom-up development strategies.
standards are the result of a consensus building process among all
makers need to learn more about ecotourism as practiced in the field, not
only as designed in the office or classroom.
development policies need to be harmonized to favor ecotourism planning;
at the very least, national policies should not undermine ecotourism
should be given in the training of local people and park managers and to
monitoring the delivery of services and products to insure they meet
umbrella organization of multi-sector ecotourism enterprises and public
authorities should be created to develop and market a particular region.
Membership in this organization should not be priced out of the reach of
small local operators.
financing (grants, inexpensive long-term loans) is needed for ecotourism
projects and must include ways to measure whether these monies are being
communication provides a low-cost and efficient mechanism for both
promotion and development; it needs to be complimented with other
needs to be accurate; access to timely and useful information needs to be
improved for all stakeholders.
professionals need to provide better insights into ecotourism without
losing the human dimension.
DEVELOPMENT OF ECOTOURISM CONFERENCE ARCHIVE
- This archive is automatically updated throughout the event and may be
searched and accessed by the public.
- This conference center page provides a short synthesis of the aims and
deadlines of the conference. It also provides links to an index of messages
posted during the event and the list of questions we asked participants to
answer. The center also includes tips on online conferencing and
Another key document is the IYE 2002 Resource Guide http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/tour/year.html
- This document provides links to official events, summaries, criticism and
related initiatives to the International Year of Ecotourism. The page is
regularly updated with corrections and suggestions made in the ongoing IYE2002
UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME
- This site provides the information about UNEP ecotourism studies, including
backgrounders on the IYE objectives, and UNEP's partners and activities. The
site links to summary reports from preparatory conferences and includes a
number of documents in PDF format.
WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION
- This website includes updated news on international, regional and national
activities in the framework of the International year of Ecotourism 2002 and
related activities, including links to final reports from various preparatory
conferences, and press releases, as well as information about WTO publications.
Its page http://www.world-tourism.org/2002ecotourism
served for basic information, background documents and registration for the
Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference. In addition to this
information, this page now contains the complete final report and an evaluation
of the web-conference.
IYE 2002 Resource Guide:
Insider's Guide: Online Yahoo.com:
Conferences - Mastering the Web:
IYE 2002 Forum:
2002 Ecotourism Conference: