Stuck between a rock and a hard place – can ecotourism be a solution for conservation?

Ecotourism is an industry that is booming in the most biodiverse and fragile parts of the world. In her presentation at the University of Edinburgh Conservation Science Conference 2016, Mollie McCulloch presented a strong argument for ecotourism as a tool for conservation. She argued that allowing people to see the beauty of nature first hand, whilst also providing an income for the local communities, can doubtless be a good thing.

Or can it?

Mollie unearthed evidence suggesting ecotourism may not be the silver bullet many people claim it to be. Yes, ecotourism can provide an income, but that money is often unevenly redistributed within the local community. The seasonal nature of tourism leads to an inconsistency of income, and there are many cases where ecotourism is to blame for the loss of livelihood of local populations1, 2. Most worryingly perhaps, ecotourism could be on its way to become a victim of its own success. As more people are interested in the natural world, and this industry grows, so does the impact on the environment. This is threatening the very core of the ecotourism business model3.

But these issues are just a drop in the ocean when the successes in the ecotourism industry are taken into account. A great example is the partnership between local Ese-Eja community and a private hotel called Posada Amazonas near Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon. A study found that this union is responsible for increasing household income by 15%4.

It is not only the local communities who benefit from ecotourism. The enrichment of travel is endless; take a child on safari and you may be sewing the seed of a future conservationist5. A study in Mon Repos, Australia found that 99% of surveyed visitors wanted to conserve sea turtle after they had experienced them in their natural habitat6.


A young teenager discovers nature ©Isabel Hoffmann

We must be realistic about the issue at hand. Like many endeavours in this world, money in conservation is a limiting resource. Substantial funds are needed to upkeep, enforce and make national parks – the most common method for conservation – worthwhile for stakeholders – be they governments, conservation NGOs or local communities. It may not be a perfect solution, but ecotourism can help to provide that money.

by Isabel H.


Sources and Further Reading:

  1. Stone, M. and Wall, G.(2004). Ecotourism and community development: case studies from Hainan, China. Environmental management, 33(1), pp.12-24.
  1. Naughton-Treves, L., Holland, M.B. and Brandon, K.(2005). The role of protected areasin conserving biodiversity and sustaining local livelihoods. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour., 30, pp.219-252.
  1. Stem, C.J., Lassoie, J.P., Lee, D.R. and Deshler, D.J. (2003). How ‘eco’ is ecotourism? A comparative case study of ecotourism in Costa Rica. Journal of sustainable tourism, 11(4), pp.322-347.
  1. Stronza, A. (2007). The economic promise of ecotourism for conservation. Journal of Ecotourism, 6(3), pp.210-230.
  1. Hill, J.L and Gale, T.(2009).Ecotourism and Environmental Sustainability: Principles and Practice. Ashgate, England.
  1. Tisdell, C and Wilson, C. (2005).Perceived impacts of ecotourism on environmental learning and conservation: turtle watering as a case study. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 7, pp291-302


  3. Own photograph featuring younger brother



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s