24 May 2012
Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 1990). The earliest known use of the term ‘ecotour’, undefined, seems to have been by Parks Canada in the 1960s (Fennell, 1999). One heavily promoted though rather verbose definition was put forward by Ceballos-Lascurain (1992). An official international definition was adopted during the UN International Year of Ecotourism in 2002 (UNEP and WTO, 2002). The major components, as analyzed by Buckley (1994) do not seem to have changed: nature-based product, minimal-impact management, environmental education, contribution to conservation. An analysis of published literature by Donohoe and Needham (2006) identified these same four aspects but also added benefit-sharing and ethics. An analysis of ecotourism literature by Weaver and Lawton (2007) indicated that debates over definition have remained a significant theme. Ecotourism then includes four fundamental elements: Firstly, it must be included in a definition of ecotourism, that ecotourism is nature-based. Activities such as business travel, travel to cities, conventional beach holidays and sporting holidays cannot be considered as ecotourism as their focus in not primarily on an experience based on the natural environment of the area visited: ‘Ecotourism is travel, often to developing countries, to relatively undisturbed natural areas for study, enjoyment or volunteer assistance that concerns itself with the flora, fauna, geology and ecosystems of an area – as well as the people who live nearby, their needs, their culture and the relationship to the land’ (Swanson, 1992). The second component is the notion of movement or travel from one location to another. This travel should be restricted to relatively undisturbed or protected natural areas as ecotourism’s focus is fundamentally on experiencing natural areas. Protected or undisturbed natural areas offer the ‘best guarantee for encountering sustained natural features and attractions’ (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1990). The third idea that must be included in a definition of ecotourism is that it has an educative role. The ecotourist generally express a strong desire to learn about nature on their trips (Eagles, 1992). Therefore, a great emphasis is placed on nature appreciation, education and interpretation through the explanation of ‘concepts, meaning and inter-relationships of natural phenomena’ (McNeely and Thorsell, 1989).