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Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly Ecotourism as Mass Tourism: Contradiction or Reality?

David Bruce Weaver Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly 2001 42: 104 DOI: 10.1177/0010880401422010 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Ecotourism as Mass Tourism: Contradiction or Reality?

by David Bruce Weaver
Whats the difference between ecotourism and mass tourism? Not much, perhaps.

cotourism is widely perceived as a nature-based form of alternative tourism that embodies the virtuous traits that mass tourism supposedly lacks. Hence, the notion of mass ecotourism is usually seen as a contradiction in terms or oxymoron. This article, however, argues that ecotourism as both a reality and an ideal can logically be conceived as a form of mass tourism, and not its opposite. The first section establishes a working definition of ecotourism, and the remainder of the paper then develops the rationale for the above contention, and considers its implications for the tourism sector and for ecotourism venues.

David Bruce Weaver, Ph.D., is on the faculty at the School of Tourism and Hotel Management at Griffith University (
2001, Cornell University



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A Working Definition of Ecotourism Three core elements can be distilled from the many attempts that have been made to define ecotourism.1 First, the focus of attraction is natural environments (e.g., a rainforest or a grassland) or specific components thereof, such as a particular type of animal or plant. Ecotourism is therefore essentially a form of naturebased tourism. Second, ecotourism emphasizes learning as an outcome of the interaction between ecotourists and the natural environment. In this way, ecotourism is differentiated from nature-based tourism activities that are more leisure based (such as the classic 3S vacation of sea, sand, and sun) or those that are adventure oriented (such as trekking, climbing, or rafting). The motivation in those latter pursuits is either to enjoy the hedonistic experience of relaxing in the sun and gaining a tan or to have a memorable experience that offers some degree of risk and personal challenge. The natural attraction in either case serves as a suitable venue that allows these motivations to be played out.2 Finally, ecotourism should be sustainable. This follows logically from the second criterion, in that the desire to understand and appreciate natural attractions implies a desire to ensure that the integrity of those attractions is not undermined. While some definitions emphasize this notion of ecological sustainability, most also include an economic or socio-cultural dimension, on the assumption that these can neither be easily divorced from each other nor from ecological sustainability.
1 Ross Blamey, Ecotourism: The Search for an Operational Definition, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 5 (1997), pp. 109130. 2 Hybridization among various types of tourism is a real possibility, with scuba diving being perhaps the classic example of an activity that combines ecotourism, 3S tourism, and adventure tourism.

One important qualifier, however, must be made to this final element. The whole issue of sustainability has proven to be murky and contentious.3 I consider it unlikely that anything can be described as being ecologically or socio-culturally sustainable beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is therefore more sensible to employ the criterion of reasonable intent. That is, ecotourism is present when a relevant enterprise makes every reasonable effort to ensure that its operations are sustainable, in line with current bestpractice principles.4 These three criteria can be combined to form the following working definition of ecotourism.
Ecotourism is a form of naturebased tourism that strives to be ecologically, socio-culturally, and economically sustainable while providing opportunities for appreciating and learning about the natural environment or specific elements thereof.

Ecotourism is present whenever an enterprise makes every reasonable effort to ensure that its operations are sustainable, in line with current best practices.

A Range of Activities A wide range of ecotourism activities can be accommodated under this definition. Classification can be made by activity type (e.g., bird watching, whale watching, geological tourism), but a more relevant typology for this discussion is the notion of a spectrum of activities that ranges from hard to soft, which has been proposed in a number of sources.5 At the hard end of the spectrum is active ecotourism, which tends to involve a small num3 See: David Weaver and Laura Lawton, Sustainable Tourism: A Critical Analysis (Gold Coast, Australia: CRC for Sustainable Tourism, Research Report 1, 1999). 4 David Weaver, Ecotourism (Brisbane, Australia: John Wiley & Sons, 2001). 5 See, for example: Kreg Lindberg, Policies for Maximizing Nature Tourisms Ecological and Economic Benefits (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 1991); Queensland, Draft Queensland Ecotourism Plan (Brisbane: Department of Tourism, Youth and Sport, 1995); and David Weaver, Ecotourism in the Less Developed World (Wallingford, UK: CAB International, 1998).

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Exhibit 1 Characteristics of hard and soft ecotourism as ideal types

Hard (Active)

The Ecotourism Spectrum

Soft (Passive)

Strong environmental commitment ....................... Moderate environmental commitment Enhancement sustainability .................................................... Steady-state sustainability Specialized trips ................................................................................... Multi-purpose trips Long trips ........................................................................................................... Short trips Small groups ................................................................................................. Large groups Physically active ................................................................................... Physically passive Few if any services expected .............................................................. Services expected Emphasis on personal experience ......................................... Emphasis on interpretation Source: David Weaver and Laura Lawton, Overnight Ecotourist Market Segmentation in the Gold Coast Hinterland of Australia, Journal of Travel Research (in press).

ber of environmentally aware participants who embark on relatively long specialized trips, expect few services during those trips, and have physically active, non-mediated experiences with the natural environment (see Exhibit 1). In contrast, the soft segment tends to embark on short ecotourism experiences as one component of a multi-purpose trip. These travelers expect a high level of comfort and services and are more likely to rely on interpretation and mediation to appreciate the relevant natural attractions. An important distinction is that soft ecotourists are usually associated with steady-state sustainability, or leaving an area in the same condition as when they arrived. In contrast, the hard ecotourist supports enhancement sustainability, or improving the condition of the physical environment through donations and volunteer activity (such as tree planting). Research carried out in

several ecotourism destinations, while involving different populations and methods, generally supports this concept of an ecotourism spectrum.6 This distinction between hard and soft ecotourism helps to explain the large discrepancies that are reported with regard to the size of the ecotourism sector. To be sure, most ecotourists fall somewhere on the continuum between hard and soft travel. Disparate sources have claimed that ecotourism accounts for as little as 2 percent7 or as much as 20 to 25 percent8 of all leisure travel. Neither estimate is necessarily inaccurate. The low estimates are based on the hard definition, while the high estimates take in more of soft ecotourism. The reader will recognize that soft ecotourism comprises many of the characteristics of mass tourism in terms of its volume, purpose of travel, and reliance on an infrastruc-

ture of services. The multi-purpose nature of the overall vacation experience of soft ecotourists is especially relevant, since the other types of activities that these travelers pursue usually relate to mass tourism (e.g., shopping, sightseeing). This is demonstrated in Kenya, for instance, where the typical North American or European vacationers spend most of their time in Nairobi or at coastal resorts. At some point, however, those vacationers participate in a day-long or (occasionally) an overnight safari in one of the popular and well-serviced protected areas that are nearby.9 As long as the safari component of this trip meets the three basic criteria set out above, one can justifiably describe it as an ecotourism experience even if the level of services and numbers involved is indicative of mass tourism. One could therefore say that those safari participants in Kenya are both mass tourists and ecotourists. I call them mass ecotourists. For many ecotourism researchers, this notion of mass tourism that is embodied in soft ecotourism is contradictory and perhaps even dangerous. They argue that high levels of visitation are not compatible with the environmental and socio-cultural well being of rural destinations where this type of activity occurs.10 Sustainability and Mass Tourism The widespread emphasis on hard ecotourism as the most legitimate form of this activity and the contrary view that Im expressing in this article can both be understood by examining the evolution of
9 John Akama, Western Environmental Values and Nature-based Tourism in Kenya, Tourism Management, Vol. 17 (1996), pp. 567574. 10 A more restrictive view of ecotourism is offered by James Butler, quoted in: Robert Scace, An Ecotourism Perspective, in Tourism and Sustainable Development: Monitoring, Planning, Managing, ed. John Nelson, Richard Butler and Geoffrey Wall (Waterloo, Ontario: University of Waterloo, 1993), pp. 5982.

6 See: Philip Pearce and Gianna Moscardo, Final Report: Understanding Visitor Plans for, Visitor Expectations of, and Visitor Reactions to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (unpublished report), Townsville, Australia: James Cook University, 1994; David Chapman, Ecotourism in State Forests of New South Wales: Who Visits and Why? (Sydney: State Forests of New South Wales and The University of Sydney, 1995); Vincent Palacio and Stephen McCool, Identifying Ecotourists in Belize through Benefit Segmentation: A Preliminary Analysis, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 234243; Dimitrios Diamantis, The Characteristics of UKs Ecotourists, Tourism Recreation Research, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 99102; and David Weaver and Laura Lawton, Overnight Ecotourist Market Segmentation in the Gold Coast Hinterland of Australia, Journal of Travel Research (in press). 7 According to the Specialty Travel Index, cited in: Nature Tourism: Managing for the Environment, ed. Tensie Whelan (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1991). 8 Don Hawkins, cited in: Joan Giannecchini, Ecotourism: New Partners, New Relationships, Conservation Biology, Vol. 7, pp. 429432.



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thinking about tourism in general and ecotourism in particular. In this regard, Jafaris four tourism platforms provide a good basis for placing this evolution in context.11 Advocacy and cautionary platforms. According to Jafari, the 1950s and 1960s were characterized by an advocacy platform, in which tourism was perceived as the ideal, smokeless industry. Hence, the more tourism the better, and therefore mass tourism was the best option. By contrast, the decade of the 1970s was dominated by a cautionary platform, led by many academics who viewed tourism in general as a Trojan horse capable of undermining the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural integrity of destinations. In this view, mass tourism was the worst possible outcome for destinations, and especially for those in supposedly vulnerable developing nations or other peripheral locations.12 Adaptancy platform. The next logical step was the proposal of tourism options deemed to be more acceptable, which is what characterized the adaptancy platform of the 1980s. This era saw the rise of alternative tourism, or tourism deliberately conceived by cautionary-platform supporters as a good ideal type diametrically opposed to bad mass tourism. Homestays and farm tourism are two examples of this type of tourism activity. Whereas mass tourism was reputed to be large-scale, externally controlled, high leakage, and concentrated in high-density
11 Jafar Jafari, An English-language Literature Review, in Tourism as a Factor of Change: a Sociocultural Study, ed. J. Bystrzanowski (Vienna: Centre for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences, 1989), pp. 1760. 12 For more recent examples see: E. Philip English, The Great Escape? An Examination of North-South Tourism (Ottawa: The North-South Institute, 1986); John Lea, Tourism and Development in the Third World (New York: Routledge, 1988); and Jost Krippendorf, The Holiday Makers: Understanding the Impact of Leisure and Travel (Oxford: Heinemann, 1987).

tourist strips, alternative tourism was supposed to be small-scale, locally controlled, conducive to the formation of linkages with other sectors of the local economy, and dispersed within low-density local neighborhoods. Where mass tourism was considered to be inherently unsustainable, alternative tourism was thought to be inherently sustainable.13 Ecotourism emerged within this context as a form of alternative tourism that put the emphasis on natural attractions as opposed to cultural attractions. Although sustainable nature-based tourism had already been practiced for many decades within national parks and other protected areas, the application of the ecotourism label placed this form of tourism in an ideological niche that gained its identity from its conscious opposition to mass tourism. This was long evident in the marketing of Caribbean island nations such as Dominica, Montserrat, and St. Vincent as nature-tourism destinations that conscientiously avoided the masstourism model favored by nearby islands, such as Antigua.14 Knowledge-based platform. Given the legacy of those first three platforms, the reluctance to identify ecotourism as a form of mass tourism or to allow soft ecotourism as a legitimate form of ecotourism is not at all surprising. After all, if mass tourism is perceived to be inherently unsustainable, it cannot meet
13 Jackie Clarke, A Framework of Approaches to Sustainable Tourism, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 5, No. 3 (1997), pp. 224233. 14 Dominicas repositioning as a nature-tourism destination in the 1970s occurred, ironically, following unsuccessful efforts to develop beachbased mass tourism. This caused the government and the tourism industry to investigate how the islands rainforests and mountains could be converted from tourism liabilities to assets. An interesting juxtaposition was Dominicas emphasis on its reputed 365 waterfalls, whereas Antigua was promoted for its 365 beaches. See: David Weaver, Alternative to Mass Tourism in Dominica, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 18 (1991), pp. 414432.

Although sustainable naturebased tourism has been practiced for many decades within protected areas, at some point the ecotourism label identified this heretofore common form of tourism as the opposite of mass tourism.

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the sustainability criterion of ecotourism. What sparked a change in attitude was the emergence in the 1990s of a knowledge-based platform that attempts to apply a more judicious approach and move beyond the ideologically based platforms of the past. In this framework, the assessment of a particular tourist product as good or bad does not depend on scale, but rather on the effectiveness of the management practices that are applied to the circumstances of each individual destination. Hence, smallscale alternative tourism may actually be inappropriate and unsustainable under certain circumstances, while large-scale or mass tourism may be sustainable under other conditions.15 An example of the former scenario is found in the Tufi region of Papua New Guinea, where delicate inter-clan balances were disrupted when one clan began to profit materially from the operation of traditional-style guest houses for overseas tourists. Clan rivalries and conflicts were exacerbated even more when well-meaning foreignaid agencies provided the operators with motor boats and other aid.16 The scenario of sustainable mass tourism is illustrated by the enlightened self-interest of the German tour operator TUI, which has been proactive in trying to ensure that its clients do not contribute to negative socio-cultural and environmental effects in the destinations that they visit.17 Once this possibility of sustainable mass tourism is acknowl15 See: Richard Butler, Alternative Tourism: Pious Hope or Trojan Horse?, Journal of Travel Research, Vol. 28, No. 3 (1990), pp. 4045; and David Weaver, A Broad-context Model of Destination-development Scenarios, Tourism Management, Vol. 21 (2000), pp. 217224. 16 Stephen Ranck, An Attempt at Autonomous Development: The Case of the Tufi Guest Houses, Papua New Guinea, in Ambiguous Alternative: Tourism in Small Developing Countries, ed. S. Britton and W. Clarke (Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific, 1987), pp. 154166. 17 John Swarbrooke, Sustainable Tourism Management (Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing, 1999).

edged, then there is no longer any basis for contending that mass tourism and ecotourism are inherently incompatible. It is in this new climate that innovative proposals for ecotourism-and-mass-tourism combinations and convergences have appeared, including Ayalas concept of resort ecotourism.18 Finding Sustainability On what grounds can the potential sustainability of mass tourism be argued, given the ample contrary evidence that has been compiled over the past three decades? One argument holds that the conventional tourism industry is learning from its past mistakes, and realizes, like TUI, that its future profitability and viability depend on adopting an attitude of enlightened self-interest with respect to environmental and socio-cultural sustainability. Although room enough remains for skepticism, there is considerable additional evidence that the mainstream industry has made significant progress toward sustainability during the 1990s.19 Large corporations that make up a substantial portion of the mass-tourism industry, moreover, are in many ways inherently better positioned to implement sustainable practices because of their internal economies of scale. For example, a large company is more likely than a small business to establish specific
18 Hana Ayala, Resort Ecotourism: A Paradigm for the 21st Century, Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 5 (October 1996), pp. 4653. 19 See, for example: Susanne Hawkes and Peter Williams, The Greening of Tourism: From Principles to Practice (Victoria, B.C.: Simon Fraser University, 1993); Pamela Wight, The Greening of the Hospitality Industry: Economic and Environmental Good Sense, in Tourism: The State of the Art, ed. A.V. Seaton (Chichester, UK: Wiley, 1994), pp. 665674; Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt, Tourism and Sustainability: New Tourism in the Third World (London: Routledge, 1998), Chapter 7; and D. Diamantis and A. Ladkin, Green Strategies, in The International Marketing of Travel and Tourism: A Strategic Approach, ed. F. Vellas and L. Bcherel (Basingstoke, UK: MacMillan, 1999), pp. 121141.

in-house positions that deal with environmental and social issues in a highly professional manner and to conduct full-scale environmental audits. As well, they generate volumes of output that allow them to implement profitable recycling, cogeneration, and other measures that are coherent with the goals of sustainability. This line of argument results in the possibility that large and increasing numbers of soft ecotourists (a variety of mass tourists) could actually improve the sustainability of tourism, provided they are making short visits to a protected area. The conventional line of reasoning within the cautionary and adaptancy platforms is that the greater the visitation level, the more likely that the sites environmental and sociocultural carrying capacities will be exceeded. Thus, sustainability is assumed to be negatively correlated with scale, and carrying-capacity levels of a particular protected area are assumed to be constant. This reasoning is preferable to the advocacy platforms perspective that visitation levels should be increased to maximize profits, and that management and regulation are unnecessary impediments to the effective operation of the marketplace. The logical difficulty with the concept of limiting visitation, however, is that carrying capacity is not necessarily fixed, but can be raised through appropriate management strategies, as described below. Moreover, this view associates sustainability with a small scale of operation and with seeing every increase in visitation as a threat to the sites integrity. More coherent with the knowledge-based platform is the view that while there may indeed be vulnerable spaces and destinations for which anything more than alternative tourism is inappropriate,20
20 Dominica and Montserrat are probable cases in point.



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Provides lobbying clout in the face of competing resource users B (ecotourism to mass tourism) Contributes to diversification of a mass-tourism product Attractive to an increasingly green mass-tourism market Further exposure to sustainability principles and practices C (protected areas to ecotourism)

Mass tourism

Provides an attractive, high-quality venue for ecotourism activities Insulates ecotourism from incompatible activities D (ecotourism to protected areas) Revenue flow provides funds for enhancement and expansion Broad exposure increases public support

degraded the Yosemite valley and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. But the NPS has identified increased motor traffic as the chief cause of that degradation, rather than simply the number of visitors. At Yosemite and the Grand Canyon the park service is working on a project to exclude cars during the busy season in favor of bus and light rail. Such services could be supported only by large numbers of visitors, and if those plans succeed, the numbers of visitors could increase beyond their current level. Linking Ecotourism and Mass Tourism with Protected Areas The previous sections argue that ecotourism can be, and is for the most part, a variant of mass tourism.22 Even more contentiously, I

21 This increase in trail use, however, could exceed the carrying capacity of the plants and animals living along the trail. Hence, the implementation of carrying-capacity measures at one location must consider the repercussions of those measures on the carrying capacity of other resources and locations.

have suggested that mass ecotourism can be more sustainable than the harder, small-scale versions of the sector. In this section I will explore in more detail the mutually beneficial relationships that can be established between mass ecotourism, other types of mass tourism, and protected areas, which are the main ecotourism venue (see Exhibit 2). Mass tourism benefiting ecotourism. As suggested earlier, the mass-tourism market provides some ecotourism sectors with most of its clientele (e.g., cruise passengers who become soft ecotravelers when they disembark on desert islands owned by the cruise line, and resort tourists visiting protected areas near resort destinations), and thereby makes some aspects of ecotourism dependent on mainstream tourism.

22 Even the most intrepid hard ecotourists are also mass tourists in that they will almost inevitably use a major airline to reach an overseas gateway, and a mass-produced vehicle to reach their ecotourism site from there. They are also likely to spend some time in a large urban hotel at the gateway during the early and late phases of their stay in that destination.

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there are also many cases where sustainability is positively correlated with the number of visitor arrivals. At the most basic level, such an argument can be made simply because a greater volume of visitors results in a higher revenue flow (as, for example, through entry and other user fees) that can be used to more effectively manage the park. Enhanced management could occur, for example, through appropriate and well-considered site-hardening measures that increase the sites capacity to accommodate a large number of visitors in an environmentally sustainable way. A highly efficient on-site waste treatment facility, for example, might be possible only because of the economies of scale generated by a large number of visitors. Such an option is preferable to a moderate number of visitors over-stressing old or outmoded facilities, or to a small number of hard ecotourists having access to no services at all (with the concomitant possibility of garbage and waste being left behind ). A less capitalintensive example is the placement of patio-type stones on a dirt trail, which could increase the trails carrying capacity tenfold.21 High visitor intakes can also enhance the educational element of ecotourism by making possible sophisticated interpretive facilities that offer virtual-reality experiences, ecosystem displays, research facilities, and capital-intensive interpretive trails. The U.S. National Park Service is, at this writing, conducting two pilot projects that take advantage of visitor numbers, while seeking to ameliorate the environmental impact of high traffic. No one would challenge the proposition that increasing numbers of visitors have

Exhibit 2 Mutually beneficial linkages between ecotourism, mass tourism, and protected areas
A (mass tourism to ecotourism) Provides a large clientele (soft ecotourists) and revenue flow Brings economies of scale amenable to sustainability Ecotourism

Protected areas

Because soft ecotourism is relatively popular and can generate substantial revenue, government is likely to take it more seriously than hard ecotourism as something deserving support. Ecotourism, with support from both the public sector and other elements of the mass-tourism industry, is better positioned to deal with competition from other groups that seek to exploit the natural environment in potentially incompatible ways (e.g., lobbyists who represent competing resource stakeholders such as logging and mining). Ecotourism benefits mass tourism. Ecotourism strengthens the mass tourism product through diversification, by offering a chance for visitors to take a break from the beach or shopping to observe and learn about natural attractions. The strong influence of ecotourism on mass tourism is illustrated by a 1990 random survey of 1,678 inbound tourists to Kenya, which revealed that 70 percent were motivated to visit that country primarily because of the opportunity to view interesting wildlife in its native habitat.23 This pattern is repeated in other well-known ecotourism destinations such as Costa Rica, Belize, and Queensland (Australia).24 If not for these wildlife-viewing opportunities, its likely that those tourists would probably travel to cheaper and more accessible 3S destinations such as Malta, Jamaica, or Hawaii. The success of 3S tourism in relatively remote and expensive destinations, therefore, is directly related to the availability of readily accessible soft-ecotourism opportunities. At a deeper level, the increasing attractiveness of ecotourism to mass tourists attests to a greening (or, perhaps, aging) of the mainstream tourist market. According to Auliana Poon, an emerging breed of tourist is environmentally and soAkama, pp. 570571. See: Weaver, Tourism in the Less Developed World, 1998.
24 23

cially conscientious and prefers to experience a diverse range of fulfilling activities.25 Such travelers favor sun-plus destinations that can offer environmental as well as 3S attractions, and have become critical of the urban and coastal hotels and surroundings that have been allowed to degrade. This shift in travelers preferences could accelerate the movement in mass tourism toward sustainability. Protected areas benefit ecotourism. High-order protected areas26 are ideal ecotourism venues, and serve to sustain the sector in all parts of the world, for the following reasons. Protected areas contain relatively unspoiled natural environments. Regulations are in place, at least theoretically, to ensure that these areas are maintained in pristine condition. Measures include prohibitions on activities that are likely to be injurious to natural attractions as well as to the ecotourism industry that they support. The fact that some areas merit protection is usually due to the outstanding character of their natural landscapes, which makes them especially attractive to ecotourists. Some protected areas, like Banff, Yellowstone, Serengeti, and the Great Barrier Reef, are tourism icons of their respective countries that attract many visitors on the strength of their reputation. The continued destruction and degradation of natural landscapes suggests that such areas will eventually be confined to the higher order protected areas.
25 Auliana Poon, Tourism, Technology, and Competitive Strategies ( Wallingford, UK: CAB International, 1993). 26 That is, Categories II, III, and IV of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) classification scheme, but not Category I, which is strictly protected to the extent that almost all human activity is prohibited.

Since ecotourism depends on protected areas, and ecotourism helps to sustain the conventional mass-tourism industry, it follows that protected areas are also important for conventional mass tourism. However, that support is indirect and therefore best mediated through the specialized ecotourism sector. A direct interface between protected areas and mass tourism is likely to increase the chances of negative outcomes, such as site degradation, vandalism, and minimal use of interpretive and educational opportunities. Ecotourism benefits protected areas. Just as protected areas indirectly support conventional mass tourism, so too does conventional mass tourism indirectly support protected areas, through the revenues generated from mass tourists engaging in soft ecotourism. The advantages of scale for facilitating appropriate site-protection measures and high-quality education were discussed earlier. However, large revenue inflows also help to achieve enhancement sustainability (that is, sustainability which improves the status quo, as discussed above), in that they provide the means to expand park boundaries and systems, add security measures, and engage in rehabilitation efforts. More fundamentally, revenue from mass ecotourism is emerging as the single biggest incentive to justify the continued existence of park systems in the face of pressure from expanding human population and resource competitors (e.g., mining and logging interests). Without such cash flows, it may be more difficult to justify to some politicians and legislators the continued existence of protected natural areas strictly on less tangible grounds such as protecting watersheds, preventing climate change, preserving biodiversity, or saving such areas for future generations. Furthermore, easy access to natural areas by a large segment of



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trated by a hypothetical protected area of 1,000 square kilometers. Imagine that a ten-square-kilometer block of land, or just 1 percent of its Relationship of Ecotourism and total area, is designated for intensive Protected Areas levels of visitor services and facilities. The growing influx of visitors to the (This is a hypothetical example, but Alaskas Denali National Park, worlds protected areas is cited by many academics as a grave threat to though much larger, is conceptually the integrity of those places and not far off from this situation.) Certheir local communities. This view is tain criteria should be taken into account in selecting the intensiveentirely justified if no measures are taken in response to the influx, or if use area, including access to outside transportation and an absence of those measures are ineffective. Nuespecially sensitive ecological sites. It merous examples can be cited of would also be desirable if panoramic unsustainable outcomes as a result. views of the remainder of the park The degradation of intensely used were somehow available. Any fear areas within Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Parks has already that this land was being sacrificed been cited, and to these can be could, of course, be allayed by acadded the experience of the Banff quiring at least some already modiCorridor (Alberta, Canada)27 and fied land adjacent to the park for this purpose. South Africas Kruger National If those ten square kilometers are Park.28 If such measures are adopted, properly planned, 5,000 visitors per however, I contend that mass ecoday could quite easily be accommotourism can be far more of an opdated without creating any undue portunity than a threat to protected areas. Here is my argument in a nut- sense of overcrowding or environshell: the presence of tourism can be mental stress.29 This implies a capaceither a threat or an opportunity, but ity to host 1.5 million visitors per the absence of tourism, while elimi- year without seriously damaging the nating a potential threat, also elimiremaining 99 percent of the land, nates this potential opportunity. most of which could still be made Protected areas tend to be diverse, accessible to hard ecotourism activicomplex, and fragile, but positive ties such as long-distance hiking and outcomes are nevertheless possible canoeing, depending on the nature through the optimum distribution of the areas natural resources. For of tourists within those spaces. the vast majority of those 1.5 milThe best strategies are those that lion visitors, the interpretation cenconcentrate large numbers of visitors ters, interpretive trails, and overall into a small area, as this allows for services that are provided in the the most efficient site-protection visitor area will more than suffice to measures to be implemented and produce a satisfying park visit if apalso minimizes the amount of space propriately managed. Imagine then that is affected by significant numbers of visitors. This can be illus29
27 J.R. Brent Richie, Policy Formulation at the Tourism/Environment Interface: Insights and Recommendations from the BanffBow Valley Study, Journal of Travel Research, Vol. 38, No. 2 (1999), pp. 100110. 28 Sanette Ferreira and Alet Harmse, The Social Carrying Capacity of Kruger National Park, South Africa: Policy and Practice, Tourism Geographies, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 325342.

the population is likely to translate into increased public support for park protection as official policy.

Mass tourism indirectly supports protected areas, through the revenues generated from mass tourists engaging in soft ecotourism.

There is a growing literature in the area of effective environmental landscaping and design to accommodate large visitor numbers in a sustainable and satisfying way. See, for example: NatureWatch, ed. Wendy Hudson (Helena, Montana: Falcon Press, 1992). Of course, attention must also be paid to the roads and communities beyond the park that will have to cope with the traffic generated by those 5,000 daily arrivals, though this, too, can have advantages in creating business opportunities for those local residents.

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that each visitor is levied a basic entry fee of $10 over and above all other fees for services. This $15 million can be used to augment the public purse in maintaining those facilities, and in managing the remaining untouched parts of the park. For the mass ecotourists, the inaccessible land is still valued as a scenic vista, as wildlife habitat, and for its existence value.30 This emphasis on concentrating visitors in a small area already reflects the situation of most popular protected areas. Like Denali, for example, the vast majority of the 700,000 visitors who visit South Africas Kruger National Park each year is concentrated on only 4 percent of the land,31 while in Costa Ricas celebrated Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, the comparable figure is 2 percent.32 Almost all visitation in Canadas Banff National Park occurs within the Bow Valley corridor, which accounts for no more than 4 percent of the parks area.33 Comparable management schemes are evident in major U.S. National Parks such as Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains (which remains the most-visited park), and even the Grand Canyon. Modified Environments as Ecotourism Venues The status of protected areas as the main ecotourism venue is entirely warranted, since such spaces are
30 That is, people have a sense of well-being just in knowing that some special resource is being protected, even if they themselves do not plan on ever personally experiencing that resource. 31 D. Roe, N. Leader-Williams, and B. DalalClayton, Take Only Photographs, Leave Only Footprints: The Environmental Impacts of Wildlife Tourism (London: International Institute for Environment and Development, HED Wildlife and Development Series No. 10, 1997). 32 Martha Honey, Pay the Price of Ecotourism, Americas, Vol. 46, No. 6 (1994), pp. 4047. 33 Philip Dearden, Tourism, National Parks and Resource Conflicts, in Tourism and National Parks: Issues and Implications, ed. R. Butler and S. Boyd (Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2000), pp. 187202.

likely to provide the desirable natural environments that are referred to in the criteria section at the beginning of this paper. However, a consideration of specific components of natural environments as ecotourism attractions opens additional venue opportunities that are also relevant to mass tourism. Peregrine falcons and whooping cranes, for example, are specific elements of the natural environment. Yet, both species have demonstrated the ability to survive, and even thrive, within highly modified environments for some or all of their life cycle. Peregrine falcons have successfully adapted to the concrete jungle of some inner North American cities, while whooping cranes make opportunistic use of croplands in the Great Plains during their migration. The willingness of many people to observe these and other species in highly modified environments raises the interesting possibility of urban ecotourism and agricultural ecotourism.34 Those unconventional venues might not only divert some tourism activity away from natural areas, but also potentially extend the scope of ecotourism activity all the way to the courtyard or immediate surrounds of any resort or inner-city hotel.35 Such ecotourism can be fostered in several ways, including the establishment of micro-environments to replace conventional manicured landscaping on hotel grounds and golf courses,36 the provision of nesting sites, and the construction of
34 Laura Lawton and David Weaver, Modified Spaces, in Encyclopedia of Ecotourism, ed. D.B. Weaver (Wallingford, UK: CAB International, 2001), pp. 315326. 35 This could also have a recruitment effect for more conventional forms of ecotourism, wherein someone who observes wildlife in an urban or farmland setting may be inspired to visit a relatively undisturbed protected area. Whether this is positive or negative for the protected area depends, again, on the way the area is managed. 36 See, for example: Max Terman, Natural Links: Naturalistic Golf Courses as Wildlife Habitat, Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 38 (1997), pp. 183197.

artificial reefs.37 All of these measures have the benefit not only of providing on-site ecotourism opportunities, but also of fostering the environmental sustainability of the mass-tourism resort or hotel facilities. Some hotels are already implementing those kinds of measures, though they are seldom recognized and promoted in any explicit way as a form of ecotourism. In the wider spectrum of tourism activity, such in situ opportunities also occupy a niche between non-ecotourism activity in the resort and soft ecotourism in a protected area, thereby contributing to product diversity. A Reasonable Connection Ultimately, this paper serves to point out that ecotourism can be and usually is a variant of mass tourism. Moreover, and contrary to the conventions of the cautionary and adaptancy platforms, is my view that mass ecotourism should be recognized, celebrated, and exploited as a great opportunity for the enhancement of the ecotourism sector itself, for mass-tourism in general, and for protected areas. Mutually beneficial relationships among those components, however, will not appear spontaneously, but only through carefully considered cooperative planning and management. A major feature and challenge of this planning is to concentrate visitor traffic to a protected area into a small, sitehardened area of the park in a sustainable and satisfying way. Then the remaining area can be maintained in a relatively unspoiled condition, supported by the revenue generated from mass ecotourism. I believe this approach will increasingly be viewed not only as a desirable compromise, but also as an essential strategy for ensuring the future viability of many protected areas. CQ
37 D. Wilhelmsson, M. Chman, H. Sthl, and Y. Shlesinger, Artificial Reefs and Dive Tourism in Eilat, Israel, Ambio, Vol. 27, No. 8 (1998), pp. 764766.



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