|Ecotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)|
Visitors have long been travelling to natural areas under the guise of recreation and tourism. This has led some observers to question whether ecotourism is simply a new name for an old activity (Wall 1994). However, several changes apparently have occurred in the last decade. First, for reasons discussed in Section 3.3, there has been growth in visits to many natural areas, particularly in developing countries. Second, many economic development professionals increasingly have viewed natural-area visitation as a tool for providing employment in regions that have experienced decline, or lack of development, in other industries.
Third, many conservation and resource management professionals increasingly have viewed natural area visitation as an avenue for enhancing natural area finance and providing conservation-related benefits, particularly to residents living near natural areas. Fourth, there has been increasing attention paid to improving the sustainability of all tourism activities, including those occurring in natural areas. Thus, although ecotourism may not represent an abrupt departure from historic recreation and tourism, it does represent a change in the level of visitation for many areas and a change in the goals that various stakeholders attach to this visitation.
The Australia case exemplifies the development of the ecotourism phenomenon (Lindberg and McKercher 1997). In the late 1980s, ecotourism was an unknown entity that was just beginning to emerge in the popular lexicon. Its growth was spurred by the ongoing debate over tourism and the environment and as a direct result of the enthusiasm for ecologically sustainable development (ESDWG 1991). At first, its potential market base was seen to be small although, as a new product, its growth potential was seen to be large.
However, this niche concept changed in the early 1990s. The term ecotourism struck a chord with the tourism industry, the travelling public, and with private and public sector agencies charged with the promotion of tourism products. Ecotourism became a buzzword. The explosion of interest in ecotourism led to the emergence of a lively debate among academics and industry leaders about the merits of the activity. Ecotourism conferences resulted in the formation of a national ecotourism association, the Ecotourism Association of Australia. In the space of four years, the Commonwealth government (Allcock et al. 1994), state governments (DCE 1992), and even regional associations (NPWS 1996) produced a variety of ecotourism policies designed to encourage the industrys development. This same period saw rapid expansion in the number of ecotourism operators and the emergence of specialist tour wholesalers and retail travel agents to market ecotourism products (Richardson 1996; Southern 1996).
By the mid 1990s, ecotourism, as a concept, began to enter a period of maturity. Many of the claims made in earlier years began to be disputed, and the legitimacy of many players to call themselves ecotourism products was challenged. The travelling public either has become more aware of what ecotourism encompasses or more critical about the idea to accept blindly the claims that mass tourism destinations are ecotourism destinations. Assumptions regarding the benefits of ecotourism have been challenged through empirical research (Lindberg, Enriquez, and Sproule 1996; Driml and Common 1995). As a result, a more realistic understanding of what the product entails and the benefits it can provide is emerging.