home Archives Evaluating the Impact of the International Year of Ecotourism: Anniversary Report (2007)

Evaluating the Impact of the International Year of Ecotourism: Anniversary Report (2007)


In May 2007 Planeta.com conducted a survey to evaluate the development of ecotourism in the five years since the 2002 International Year of Ecotourism.

Three dozen respondents have responded. The following are the results and key comments.

The United Nations declared 2002 the “International Year of Ecotourism.” The declaration came as a result of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)-related meeting of the Ad-Hoc (Inter-Agency) Working Group on Tourism, convened at Heredia, Costa Rica in 1999 in which the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) were mandated to work together toward a World Ecotourism Summit, which took place in Quebec, Canada in May, 2002.

Having chronicled the development of ecotourism since 1994, in early 2001 Planeta launched the IYE2002 Forum to focus on the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE). Planeta.com created an online guide and conducted the 2002 Ecotourism Forum to promote a dialogue among interested parties. In April 2002 at the request of UNEP and WTO, Planeta website founder Ron Mader developed the Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference.

Survey Results
When did you become aware of the International Year of Ecotourism?

2002 or before – 82.4%
After 2002 – 8.8%
Just now – 8.8%

How do you characterize ecotourism in the country where you live? Provide examples of best or worst practices.

PAKISTAN – Ecotourism is a new concept in Pakistan. Some people understand its true concept but most of the people in travel trade are not fully aware about the concept

USA – For the United States, ecotourism is a misnomer, although many companies are practicing the principles under the names ‘nature tourism’ and ‘agritourism.’

MEXICO – Ecotourism is fairly nondescript in Mexico. It generally means being outdoors. That said, there are number of great examples of conservation and local community involvement in successful tourism enterprises. Worst practices are the massive attractions where there is no concern to the environment or local communities.

INDIA – Ecotourism is becoming one of the major attractions of Kerala. In this small state, ecotourism activities and programs are mainly in the wilderness areas. Ecotourism programs in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary are the examples of good practices, because of the participation of the local community. Worst practices are the business magnets trying to project themselves as leaders of the ecotourism bandwagon of Kerala. The whole tourism management authority of government is being manipulated by this highly influential group.

AUSTRALIA – Ecotourism is largely a major money spinner with few operators obtaining accreditation taking their obligations seriously in my experience. The international year of ecotourism launch here in South Australia was appalling in all senses but particularly for the Ngarrindjeri peoples whose country was used for the event.

CANADA – In Saskatchewan, Canada there are very few operators offering services consistent with the principles of ecotourism. Most do not want to use the term because it has developed a ‘greenwash’ flavor. As a operator myself certified by one of the few Canadian certification processes I am consistently applying it. The term tourism for sustainability or sustainable tourism are more in favour in the industry in our area at present. Relatively little progress has been made since 2002. In fact here, more was accomplished before 2002 and we have seen a drop or degeneration in ecotourism.

CANADA – As a professional consultant focusing on Aboriginal ecotourism and community economic development in Canada, I would characterize the ecotourism sector as slowly emerging and developing. The gap in Canada is on the side of indigenous people being involved in establishing government policy and programs for tourism and for ecotourism. We need to build government capacity to understand and effectively support ecotourism and Aboriginal ecotourism. One of the best ways to do this at the government level would be to seek the guidance and even the decision-making roles for the real ecotourism experts in Canada – the operators and developers who are living and breathing ecotourism on a day-to-day basis.

CARIBBEAN – For the Eastern Caribbean: A marginal fragment of the total tourism product in the region — ironically, by permitting the development of more difficult sites, it may have increased total tourism and the ecological footprint of all tourism in the region.

USA – I think that the phrase ‘ecotourism’ is weighed down by some negative connotations–the public thinks that it only applies to budget, hardy, backpacker-type travel options, and that it can only take place in pristine natural settings. The future of the movement depends on a widening of this meaning to include luxury travel (in addition to other price ranges) and to apply to urban and suburban accommodations. Good practices are low-impact/no-impact backcountry camping. Worst practices are low-mileage SUVs.

On a scale of 1-5 (1 being the least and 5 being the most), rate how well you think ecotourism is managed by the government in the country where you live::

Policy and planning 1.97
Regulation 1.77
Product development, marketing and promotion 2.17
Costs and benefits monitoring 1.66

How do you characterize ecotourism in other countries? Provide examples of good practices or greenwashing.

Hard to say that ‘ecotourism’ has much meaning around the globe. A Lonely Planet author said that what is called ‘ecotourism’ in Latin America is called a ‘walk in the country’ in the UK. Greenwashing exists at all levels, from operators to ngos to countries.

In Ecuador, there are many examples of organizations claiming to be ‘ecotourism,’, but too little regulation. Too many certifications and awards appear to be given with insufficient inspection, or even on self reporting, or worse – used as a promotional tool by the certifying body itself, giving them little incentive to turn down operations that at least present a nominal appearance/self reported case of being true ecotourism. In this sense, these types of certification and awards could be promoting more greenwashing than true ecotourism practices.

The certification movement has created a lot of green wash.

On a scale of 1-5 (1 being the least and 5 being the most) how well do you think indigenous people are involved in the development of ecotourism in the country where you live and globally:

In the country where I live – 2.37
Global – 2.52

On a scale of 1-5 (1 being poor and 5 being the best) how would you evaluate the work of developing ecotourism by IYE organizers United Nations Environment Programme and World Tourism Organization since 2002?

United Nations Environmental Programme – 2.73
World Tourism Organization – 2.29

What are the noteworthy achievements in ecotourism in the past five years?

PAKISTAN – In Pakistan people from travel trade have started thinking more seriously the negative impacts of general and tourism and there is better growth of understanding about the concept of ecotourism during the last five years.

INDIA – In India, especially in Kerala, more travellers and entrepreneurs have become aware of ecotourism. Indigenous people are making an alternate livelihood from these programs in the Reserves. They are working with the state forest department to protect the jungles they live in which is indeed a noteworthy achievement.

MEXICO – The increasing coordination between federal government agencies. SEMARNAT produced an ecotourism norm NMX-AA-133-SCFI-2006 and a small manual.

AUSTRALIA – Aboriginal people in Australia have traditional fire management practices that are slowly being adopted in the area where I live. In the areas that our Indigenous people are not only advising but managing this practice, our wildlife, flora and fauna has started to come back to the way it was in the past. Plants and animals not seen for generations are now returning.

NEW ZEALAND – Ecotourism has moved from being an activity on the fringes of policy development to a place firmly on the radar; the first education programmes training people to work in ecotourism have been offered; the first national ecotourism conference has been held (with the second to come in August this year); and a virtual ecotourism centre (www.ecotourismnz.com).

USA – I believe that the media’s greater attention to ecotourism is a huge achievement. Mainstream magazines, newspapers, and television shows are considering environmental and social responsibility when making travel recommendations.

What are the chief obstacles in developing successful ecotourism?

Ecotourism is not producing enough money to be successful.

Lack of clarity. Weak definitions and piling-on of extraneous criteria. Failure to educate consumers to be more demanding. Easy capitulation to short-term economic gain over long-term resource conservation. Climate change and frantic efforts to adjust will probably cancel out previous thoughtful efforts at conservation.

Conflicts between ecotourism goals and economic forces (usually the strongest) that tend to motivate operations to cut corners, leave out ‘messy’ community involvement, use market spin to greenwash. Many of the things ecotourism operations should do are not glamorous, visible or marketable (examples:, long, behind-the-scenes participative meetings with community, use of composting toilets).

The chief obstacles are the lack of communication, collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders. Everybody’s talking, but few are listening.

Governments fail to be proactive and supportive.

TIES is a major problem since they have become so big and are having influence on policy-makers. It’s a top-down situation. And because of their size, they are influential – people who are looking to develop ecotourism look to them. It’s not good.

Canada has various federal and provincial development programs and tourism agencies which have the ability to invest in project development and marketing. In dealing with these various programs across the country, it is clear that most programs do not have an adequate understanding of ecotourism, and what kind of role they should be playing to strategically support the development of ecotourism. In general, the federal and provincial programs treat ecotourism as they would any other tourism project, and the developers are faced with the additional task of educating their government contacts about the ecotourism industry while also seeking their project support. This results in an ‘uphill battle’ which can be won, but with significant extra persistence, resources and delays.

What’s on your wishlist? Do you have any suggestions that could help improve ecotourism?

Better information and marketing.

Make sure that lessons from good and bad examples get shared, not swept under the rug. Give local communities a voice. Talk to locals about what the real scoop is, not just the marketing people.

Transparency in development banks and foundations. We’d like more user-friendly information on bank and donor websites.

Proper training for all the officials and entrepreneurs on ecotourism.

I’d like to see a programme of international exchanges for both operators and educators/trainers.

Save the planet – become an ecotourist. Save the planet – become an ecotourist operator.

Government in Canada, and governments elsewhere as well, would be well advised to develop ecotourism development capacity within their agencies. Government should have dedicated programs and personnel who research and support ecotourism, and who can become internal champions within government. Aboriginal people have specific rights which should be respected for the benefit of all. Ecotourism, as an industry, needs to focus more heavily on genuine partnership with Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal leadership. Every ecotourism project should endeavour to build respectful, equal relations with neighbouring Aboriginal communities. I’m not talking about having a native carving in your lobby, or about selling native crafts. I’m talking about building a respectful relationship from the earliest days of conceptualizing your project, jointly determining appropriate ways that your project can provide economic opportunities for your Aboriginal partners, and striving to ensure that your project minimizes negative impacts and maximizes potential benefits for the community. Government seeking to support Aboriginal ecotourism should not only make this a target, they should also include Aboriginal ecotourism representatives in the process of ecotourism policy development and programming development, and furthermore, in decision-making roles.

Do you have any suggestions of how traditional media (magazines, newspapers, radio, tv) can improve coverage of ecotourism?

Be more skeptical.

Maybe ‘ecotourism’ as a term is now too limiting, and media should report on ‘sustainable’ tourism that impacts more people through mass-market tourism

Each press tour should have a component concerning ecotourism if it applies to that destination. The media needs to tell how it is, how it could be, how visitors,along with local governments can help improve the cultural, social, economic and environmental aspects of the destination. The media is often more of an ambassador of the destinations than a real enquirer or investigator.

Get rid of greenwash. Anyone saying ‘see it before it disappears’ or fly to Antarctica for a pristine eco experience to commune with nature should be drawn and quartered for their hypocrisy and sheer avarice.

Many journals are not diligent with the term ‘ecotourism.’ It can mean anything from a community lodge to a jet ski operator. Too often editors allow their advertisers to define the word, but worse, most editors simply don’t care. Editors and publishers may argue that travel writing is escapism. If so, readers need to demand more from their publications. One of the frequent discussion threads during the MET Conference is the value of local reporters versus parachute journalists. Why don’t we write more about the places where we live?

Do you have any suggestions of how websites can improve coverage of ecotourism? We are seeking recommendations for government tourism portals and independent sites.

Give priority to small organisations as they are the best practitioners of what they preach.

The ultimate mashup would be a tool with yahoo/google search capabilities, plus a wiki-style descriptive component, linked to all available sources of evaluative/assessment/certification material for each destination, tour company, guide program, hotel, B&B, restaurant, bus company, wrangler, etc. Essentially Web 3.0 where you send your agent out to scout for your criteria and report back.

Federal government and national parks websites are often weak in linking with good ecotourism websites

We need information!

The governments could somehow give recognition (an award) for good sites of ecotourism.

We need a carefully developed and applied glossary and taxonomy of ecotourism so that people know what descriptions mean.

Involving governments through UNWTO and UNEP would be a good step.

Websites should focus on quantifiable success, such as how much water a hotel saves, or how many local people it’s brought medical care to. This convinces the public that their tourist dollars are going to a well thought out and successful program.

We need to see recognition for good work. Reciprocal links are fine, but we need something we greater depth. Government websites that spotlight ecotourism and sustainable travel are eligible to win Planeta.com’s Ecotourism Spotlight Award. Winners are announced before World Tourism Day.

Web Archive

IYE 2002


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