Final Report
April 2002

Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference
Preparatory Conference for the International Year of Ecotourism
April 1-26, 2002
FINAL REPORT

INTRODUCTION

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 2002).

 

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
>> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/2002ecotourism

 

Participants were 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 Challenge
Theme 2: Regulation of Ecotourism: Institutional Responsibilities and Frameworks
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.

 

Several 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.

THEME 1:
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 ecotourism policies.

 

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 stakeholders.

Comments and Conclusions

THEME 2:
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

THEME 3:

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

Internet Use

Product Development

THEME 4:

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 monitoring activities.

 

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 Ukraine.

Comments and Conclusions

Information-Sharing Proposals:

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.

 

Planeta.com 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 information.

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

RECOMMENDATIONS

The following are general recommendations that emerged during the Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference:

REFERENCES

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF ECOTOURISM CONFERENCE ARCHIVE
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/2002ecotourism
- This archive is automatically updated throughout the event and may be searched and accessed by the public.

 

PLANETA.COM
http://www.planeta.com/2002ecotourism.html
- 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 troubleshooting assistance.

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 Forum
>> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/iye2002.

 

UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME

http://www.uneptie.org/pc/tourism/ecotourism/documents.htm
- 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
http://www.world-tourism.org/sustainable/IYE-Main-Menu.htm
- 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.

 

Planeta.com Resources

gIYE 2002 Resource Guide:
http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/tour/year.html

gInsider's Guide: Online Yahoo.com:
http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/period/master/onlineyahoo.html

gConferences - Mastering the Web:
http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/period/master/conferences.html

gEcotourism Bibliography:
http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/reviews/bibtour.html

bIYE 2002 Forum:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/iye2002

b2002 Ecotourism Conference:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/2002ecotourism