|Ecotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)|
|4. OUTLOOK: ISSUES, TRENDS, IMPLICATIONS, AND OPTIONS|
Issue/trend: As discussed in previous sections (4.6 and 4.8), there is a need to more actively manage visitors and to enhance the quality of the visitor experience.
Options: Implement interpretive programmes as a means for achieving both of these objectives.
Development of interpretive centres and other interpretive material has occurred at many sites within the region. For example, the Malaysia Department of Wildlife and National Parks recently constructed interpretive centres at Bota Kanan and Sungkai (DWNP 1996a). However, interpretation has been largely neglected at many sites in the region (Lindberg et al. 1997; Campbell 1994). For this reason, and due to its importance in ecotourism, it is discussed in some detail here (further discussions are available in Ham (1992) and other interpretation resources). Though the focus here is on using interpretation to manage visitors and enhance the visitor experience, it also serves to develop a keener awareness of an area or issue and to promote public understanding of the natural area management agency and its policies.
Put simply, interpretation seeks to help people understand and appreciate the environment through various communication processes. Interpretation is more than just providing information or explaining the environment (Wylie 1994). Tilden (1977) defines interpretation as an educational activity which aims to reveal meaning and relationships through the use of original objects, by firsthand experience and by illustrative media, rather than communicate factual information. The concept of interpretation is illustrated by the saying, through interpretation understanding, through understanding appreciation, through appreciation protection.
The following are some of the considerations for effective interpretation (expanded from Allcock et al. 1994):
· the level and type of education will depend on the interests and expectations of the tourist and will include a broad range of educational opportunities through interpretation, interactive and participative approaches, and the use of various media;
· the interpretive component may acknowledge the natural and cultural values of a destination and also can address issues such as resource management and the role and attitude of the host community;
· content can include information and orientation, rules and regulations, activities, local flora and fauna, ecological processes, management issues and the cultural history and prehistory of the area (in short, topics can be broad and varied, and are only limited by the imagination of the interpreters); and
· interpretive material should be easily accessible, accurate and stimulating to encourage responsible behaviour and an ongoing interest in the environment and conservation after the visit.
The art of interpretation has been well-developed in many countries, but planning has been slower to progress. It has frequently been omitted, ad hoc (Upitis 1991) or in many cases reinvented. However, planning for interpretation can help managers:
· decide what they want to achieve, by identifying what opportunities are offered to raise public awareness, and what management issues can be addressed through interpretation; and
· work out the most effective and efficient way to achieve goals.
Proper planning is required for effective evaluation, and thus effective strategic planning. Upitis (1991) summarizes the questions that should be asked when planning interpretation:
· why communicate?
· what is the objective?
· what is the message?
· who is the audience
· how/when/where is the best way to communicate with the audience?
· what have we achieved?
Interpretation can be included as part of the management planning process of the site, rather than being considered as an afterthought. Interpretive considerations can have a major influence on the placement of facilities, such as trails/tracks and campsites.
The range and type of interpretation will vary considerably from country to country as well as site to site. In Asia and the Pacific, interpretive services have traditionally been fairly basic, and often have been designed for a limited domestic market. Interpretation is one area in which consideration must be given to the differences between domestic and international visitors. This is not just a challenge in terms of language, but also in terms of the type of media, style of presentation, and the content. Often, there will need to be provision for multilingual interpretation, whether in the written media or guides.
Interpretation also can be a valuable tool to increase the awareness and understanding of local people who may live adjacent to the natural area. Interpretation can illustrate how they can contribute to the protection and sustainability of the areas natural resources upon which they may depend for subsistence or income. Indeed Ceballos-Lascur <in (1996) suggests that there is increasing evidence to indicate that on-site interpretive programmes in developing countries have an important strategic environmental education function.
Ceballos-Lascurin (1996) goes on to describe the case study of the Kanah National Park interpretive centre in India. The interpretive centre was created entirely by local staff and utilized local resources. The development of this highly successful interpretive centre has resulted in a number of spin-offs. It has demonstrated the abilities of the Indian staff and has encouraged other park managers to develop their own interpretive services. It has given interpretation a higher profile within the Indian parks system and has allowed the continued development of expertise in planning, design and development of other interpretive facilities. It is also significant that this project was developed as a partnership between the managers and the local people who had been relocated from the park when it was designated.
The effective implementation of interpretive programmes can greatly enhance the visitor experience, thereby making the site more competitive. In addition, interpretation can be used to manage visitors in a non-intrusive manner, thereby reducing negative impacts and increasing positive impacts. Moreover, it can be used to raise the general awareness and level of support for resource management policies and agencies.