What is Community Based Ecotourism?
According to the Nature Conservancy and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) ecotourism is defined as , “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.” As opposed to other forms of travel, ecotourism can be distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, traveler responsibility, education and active community participation.
More specifically community based ecotourism should follow the following principles:
- Maintain local ownership and control
- Result in minimal impact
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate
The principles of ecotourism have arisen following a realization that without appropriate planning and management systems, tourism to ecologically sensitive areas can threaten both the integrity of local ecosystems and local cultures. However, with adequate foresight, it has also been recognized that tourism can establish viable economic opportunities for local communities and encourage environmental conservation.
Evidence has demonstrated that the most effective way to maximize such environmental and fiscal benefits is through projects which emphasize local community ownership and control. Such projects generate funds which can be invested in community social projects, such as the purchase of medical supplies or the construction of a school-house, and/or provide increased economic incentives for local efforts at conservation. Furthermore, it provides a mechanism through which communities can empower themselves against more invasive and extractive activities such as oil, logging, cattle, bananas, commercial fishing, or conventional mass tourism.