The Amazon rainforest is located in 9 different countries and is a home to 350 ethnic groups, and 10 million species such as animals, plants and insects. In 2019, the Amazon rainforest fires have raised global awareness on how we can take action to protect our precious yet fragile planet. As a result, ecotourism is growing to be a new tourism trend due to the increase of sensitivity and awareness of ecological issues. An upsurge can be seen in the ecotourism industry that millennials are especially interested in sustainable nature traveling in recent years.
To define ecotourism, it is the “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). It is regarded as one of the most important and developing sub-sector in the tourism industry for being the largest and fastest-growing industry worldwide, accounts for 10% of the world's GDP, 7% of the global tourism market, and 1 in 10 jobs (UNWTO, 2017).
This essay will discuss and analyze the impact of ecotourism on the environment and local economy to see if it brings more benefits or disadvantages to the Amazon rainforest. Possible solutions will also be proposed to minimize the disadvantages.
The benefit of ecotourism is to help reduce deforestation. The Amazon has been seen record-breaking levels of deforestation. “In Brazil, for example, the states of Pará and Mato Grosso both are seeing extensive deforestation, with much of the pressure coming from land grabbers, the cattle and soy industries” (Gonzales, 2019). The loss of trees from deforestation will lead to extreme temperature swings that are harmful for people and creatures living in the Amazon rainforest. Furthermore, deforestation can lead to various global environmental issues such as climate change and desertification. First, climate change would increase greenhouse gases, causing global warming; and the rise of sea levels will lead to flooding, where islands and coastlines would drown and disappear. Second, desertification, which reduces the ability of land to support surrounding populations of people and animals and produce human health problems. The South American rainforest influences regional and global water cycles, and it is the key to the water supply in Brazilian cities and neighboring countries. It is a good example to illustrate how serious and threatening it will be to us when there is a loss of clean water and biodiversity.
By promoting ecotourism, it offers an alternative way to earn income. As ecotourists pay to visit the natural beauty of Amazon, local people and the government will therefore have a greater desire to preserve their region due to its natural and economic value. At the same time, ecotourism can reduce the need for hunting of forest animals for income. A research in Tambopata shows that “ecotourism was more profitable in the long term than any other common use of the land”. They also found that “avoiding deforestation was far more impactful than the carbon footprint of visitors, meaning that ecotourism significantly reduces carbon emissions” (Kirkby, Giudice-Granados, Day, Turner, Velarde-Andrade, Dueñas-Dueñas, as cited in O’Gara, 2018).
On the other hand, the argument against ecotourism on the Amazon rainforest is the increasing infrastructures built for the convenience of tourism is bringing harm to the environment. “About three football fields worth of rainforest per minute are being lost, primarily to infrastructure projects” (Woodward, 2019) and according to another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, “yet 45% of the proposed road infrastructure projects would result in economic losses” (PNAS, as cited in Moloney, 2020). Many people and creatures have lost their home due to the large amount of rainforest being destroyed. People chose to sacrifice the rainforest for running businesses, however, they have never considered the environmental cost of doing it, that is the loss of biodiversity and habitat, as well as a decrease in the quality of life.
“In Brazil, the proposed projects to improve its 2,234-km trans-Amazonian highway, BR-230, is presumably causing forest-cover loss amounting to nearly a quarter of the total predicted for the region by 2030” (Moloney, 2020). In addition, The Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network, an association formed by a group of specialists from non-government organizations and other organizations within six Amazon region countries also reveals that, “among the 6,345 indigenous territories located within the 9 Amazonian countries surveyed, 32% are threatened or pressured by two types of infrastructure activities, while 41% are threatened or pressured by at least one. Only 8% of the total are not threatened or pressured at all” (RAISG, as cited in Gonzales, 2019). These case studies have shown us that the infrastructure projects are increasing pressures and putting risks on the general environment in the Amazon rainforest.
Another challenge the Amazon rainforest will be facing in the future is over-tourism as the popularity of the eco-destination grows. Recently, social media has a large impact on tourism. According to a survey conducted by WeSwap recently, 37% of respondents said their choice of holiday destination was influenced by social media, 34% of respondents have actually booked a holiday because of the content seen on social media and 29% of respondents would not choose a holiday destination if they were not able to post on social media (WeSwap, n.d.). Therefore, the Amazon rainforest, being one of the most popular places among millennials for being the best forests to take Instagram photos would possibly attract more visiting in the future, which may result in pollution, destruction of wildlife, and harm to the landscapes.
Ecotourism can create a lot of job opportunities for locals as they can work in a range of sectors such as tourism, construction, hospitality. “Locally-based ecotourism operations that hire locally and are based locally can return as much as 95 percent of earnings into the local economy” (FAO, 2011). The Conservation Strategy Fund has studied the economic impact of tourism within the natural protected areas in Peru, it was shown that ecotourism “generated US$ 165 million in household income and wages at the local level, as well as more than 36,000 jobs in localities and surrounding cities” (Gribi, 2018). According to a survey conducted by Booking.com, “over half of global travelers report being more determined to make sustainable travel choices than they were before, but barriers include a lack of knowledge and available or appealing options when trying to put this into practice” (Booking.com, 2019). Therefore, the figures are predicted to rise in the long run not only because of the uptrend of visiting to protected natural areas, but also the multiplier effect. The multiplier effect is “the proportional amount of increase in final income that results from an injection of spending” (Ganti, 2019). For instance, the money tourists spent in an ecolodge helps to create jobs directly in the ecolodge, but it also creates jobs indirectly to other places in the economy. The ecolodge, for example, has to buy food from local farmers, who may spend some of this money on fertilizers.
However, if a community who rely heavily on tourism to sustain their livings, such as the Amerindian tribes. This may potentially become a big disadvantage for them because it means that the economy will become vulnerable as any changes in demand is likely to cause a major economic crisis. As an example, the negative news on Amazon fires recently may cause travelers to cancel their plan to visit the Amazon rainforest in these years due to worries and fears. It may result in a decline in tourism and the economy in Amazon will experience a recession, which means the tribes will possibly be facing unemployment and a significant fall in income.
Ecotourism can generate government tax revenues for investing in new educational and training programs, as well as providing more funds for conservation. There will be an improvement in human capital and productivity. For instance, if indigenous youth can attend school, they would be able to receive bilingual education, which they can learn a universal language and their own native language which is highly beneficial for them as they can either run their own business or find work in the city after graduation. This will help to increase their income and well-being in the future.
Ecotourism would be more ideal if the negative impacts can be settled. A possible solution that can be done by the government is setting policies to support sustainable development and natural resource protection. For example, discouraging cattle ranching or oil drilling by taxing the investors or promoting high value, low volume tourism as what Botswana did.
As an individual, to be a responsible ecotourist, there are also a few things we can do. First, doing research beforehand on the accommodation and tourist companies to see whether they are promoting sustainable practices and respecting the local culture and environment. Second, reducing our carbon footprints by ridesharing or walking to minimize the impact on the environment. Last, supporting the local economy by purchasing locally made souvenirs and crafts.
In terms of the environmental impacts, ecotourism is having more disadvantages than advantages. Reasons include the destroy infrastructure projects bring and the potential rise of over-tourism.
Whereas, in terms of economic impacts, there are more advantages than disadvantages to the local economy due to the increasing job opportunities, local people will, therefore, be able to gain more income and receive a better education.
- Booking.com (2019). 2019 Sustainable Travel Report. Retrieved from https://globalnews.booking.com/bookingcom-reveals-key-findings-from-its-2019-sustainable-travel-report/
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2011). Ecotourism Can Play Vital Role in Maintaining Healthy Forests. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/90192/icode/
- Ganti. A. (2019). Multiplier Effect. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/multipliereffect.asp
- Gonzales. J (2019). Amazon Infrastructure Puts 68% of Indigenous Lands/Protected Areas at Risk: Report. Retrieved from https://news.mongabay.com/2019/06/amazon-infrastructure-puts-68-of-indigenous-lands-protected-areas-at-risk-report/
- Gribi N. (2018). Tourism in Protected Areas Generated US $720 Million in Peru in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.conservation-strategy.org/news/tourism-protected-areas-generated-us-720-million-peru-2017#.WrKbjOjwbIU
- Moloney A. (2020) Planned Amazon Roads Could Harm Economies Not Just Forests, Researchers Warn. Retrieved from https://news.trust.org/item/20200316182218-awt85
- O’gara, A (2018). The Economics Of Ecotourism: Private Profits And Social Benefits. Retrived from https://faunalytics.org/the-economics-of-ecotourism-private-profits-and-social-benefits/
- The International Ecotourism Society (2015). What is Ecotourism. Retrieved from https://ecotourism.org/what-is-ecotourism/
- WeSwap (n.d.). How Social Media Is Taking Over Tourism. Retrieved from https://c8de9c07f5bc3c7540b8-af152700d349bb4c661e21971b9c756d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/downloads/Travel_for_the_gram_Sept_2018.pdf
- World Tourism Organization(2017). UNWTO Tourism Highlight 2018 Edition. Retrieved from https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284419876
- Woodward A. (2019). The 'Lungs of the Planet' Are Burning at a Record Rate. If Too Much of the Amazon Disappears, That 'Dieback' Could Turn the Land into a Savanna. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com.au/amazon-rainforest-experiencing-record-breaking-deforestation-2019-7?r=US&IR=T