The term ‘tourism’ was coined by Thomas Cook in 1841, who lead the development of commercialized mass tourism. He had taken a number of 571 persons on a trip, supplying meals and music (Gyr, 2010). The term encompasses all activities undertaken by visitors while they travel and stay in places, beyond their normal environment, once their visit does not exceed a one-year time period (Stainton, 2020). Some of these activities undertaken may be touring, sports, research/studies, food related, nature related etc.
Tourism has many benefits which include brining in money to a country’s national budget, into businesses like restaurants and hotels, it also helps to create jobs for local people that work in hotels, bars, transportation and tour guides etc., it provides incentives for both private and public sectors to invest in their infrastructure/physical developments like roads, if managed correctly, incentives can also be encourage preservation and conservation of the natural environment as well that can be used as a different type of tourism called ecotourism, tourism also encourages international relationships among countries and brings about cultural awareness and education, and finally, tourism helps in marketing countries which will be beneficial to the country’s recognition (Goodman, 2020).
However, with all advantages come disadvantages. The major impact of mass tourism would be its destruction to the environment. As more people utilize the resources, there is increased erosion, damage to infrastructure, pollution, loss of biodiversity and habitats and even climate change and disasters eventually. In some instances, culture of local people is misunderstood or disrespected and on the other hand may become hybridized by visiting culture (Goodman, 2020). More often than not, huge foreign businesses make more money than the local businesses so it doesn’t really benefit them.
A pushed ideology as a ‘Hail Mary’, that has been largely considered and implemented by many countries is ‘ecotourism’ which is defined as “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 deals with promoting tourism in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way and those are the major differences between ecotourism and mass tourism. That means it utilizes the natural environment as much as possible. This leads to conservation and involvement of the community folks (TIES, 2015).
Recently, Guyana was named as the number one destination for ecotourism in a news article titled ‘Guyana Dubbed World’s Best Ecotourism Destination” (Kaieteur News Online, 2019). It was reported that Guyana possesses “global leadership in offering responsible tourism opportunities”, according to ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Borse) Berlin who were impressed with ecolodges located in the Indigenous communities (Kaieteur News Online, 2019). Guyana is dubbed sustainable due to some key reasons. We have large amounts of land covered by forest. Our population is small, so even if our strategies to maintain ecosystems are small, the impact of human activities on the environment is small and will take longer to cause any devastating damage. But that does not mean that we should not do everything we can to protect and promote ecotourism in our natural locations that have many unique ecotourism opportunities to offer. We currently have six protected areas that are all top tourist attractions such as the Kaieteur Falls and Iwokrama Reserve. We have been identified as a biodiversity hotspot and have the capacity to participate in many nature-related activities such as kayaking etc. Also due to the fact that many of our interior locations are not easily accessible, we stand at an advantage. We also possess many cultural attractions and the presence of the Amerindian culture and foods are very attractive. If we are able to properly manage our ecotourism sites, we can take the lead on the ecotourism sector (Terra Incognita, 2019).
On the other hand, the question lies about whether or not ecotourism is really sustainable or zero impact on the environment or whether it is a better option over mass tourism. It certainly is low impact tourism but it can be criticized. Firstly, ecotourism poses serious threats to the culture of the indigenous people. Sometimes, if the area is not titled Amerindian/native land, we may need to relocate the people which will lead to inconveniences. More importantly though, cultures get hybridized when tourists bring their own culture and teach the village people their ways. This effect is more gradual as indigenous people adapt to behavior seen by tourists. Sometimes the tourists are also disrespectful to the cultures that they do not understand. In an effort to make the cultures more appealing, the native people have to portray it in such a way that it may attract tourists and sometimes it is not always ethical (Clayton, 2017).
Second but very important, ecotourism promotes that it is environment friendly but let us consider that we are increasing traffic and human interaction within otherwise pristine areas with limited interaction. As such, it can be argued that it actually increases environment degradation. In most cases, human presence can interfere with the normal functioning of the ecosystems present. We may see species migrating or reproductive behaviors altered. Pathways encourage erosion from foot traffic and the area can become more prepped or altered to make accommodations for an increased number of people (Clayton, 2017).
Third, most of the exotic and more attractive places may be found further inland or in the remote areas. Now in order for us to access these areas, roads, airstrips, docks or trails may be built. These cause further destruction to habitats and land or aquatic ecosystems. Pollution may also increase causing harm to flora and fauna (Clayton, 2017).
Fourth and final, the management of the ecotourism destinations may develop some questionable, unethical practices which may lead to a jab at their integrity. Many organizations claim to portray green tourism, but is this really the case? The policies guarding the ecosystems are often ignored just so that they may make more money. For example, they can take an increased number of persons into the destination and ignore the accommodation capacity. Many of times also, the money generated is not shared to the local folks to enhance their lives and communities, failing to benefit the communities. Land use changes are made with deep consideration to money making. Funds are being pumped into the sector for aesthetics that should be used for other, more green projects and sectors, for example, renewable energy sector (Clayton, 2017).
One experience was shared by Creative Conservationist and National Geographic Explorer, after she visited an ‘eco resort’ located near Cancun. She described the place as being far from eco-friendly as she mentioned dead squirrels, macaws with clipped wings, for visitors’ amusement, ominously suspended trees and being served hot beverages in polystyrene cups just to mention a few. The marketing is certainly far from the truth of what the destination turned out to be. But she also described the place as being beautiful (not naturally, however). The cost to the environment was great (Jay, 2017).
Recommendations to prevent these occurrences may include: programs that work with local people to teach tourists about their culture, traditions and customs; respecting the rights of indigenous people to their lands and host consultations about projects that may affect them; obey the ecotourism regulations in a strict manner, even if it costs generation of more income; and incorporate more ancient/physical methods of transportation for example, use or horses, camels, walking and hiking so that the carbon footprint may be less.
In conclusion, the fact remains that ecotourism is not the ‘Hail Mary’, not the savior or the greatest concept to be invented since tourism. However, with time, we can work towards strengthening management strategies and policies used to guide the sector to truly make it sustainable and not just a marketing strategy.