|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 noted in the previous section, the number of visitors is expected to increase at many of the regions natural areas. In addition, it is expected that the types of visitors (the visitor market) will change.
One of the primary changes will be in the balance of western and Asian visitors (with Asian visitors being both domestic and intraregional). Though growth is expected for western ecotourists, faster growth is expected for Asian ecotourists, such that the latter will comprise a larger proportion of all visitors. In general, Asian visitors are more likely to prefer larger group sizes, relative comfort, and easy site accessibility. They may seek forest-oriented experiences, but are more likely to do so in the context of trips taken for other purposes, such as golfing or diving.
Moreover, there often is divergence between the on-site experiences sought by Asians and westerners, and this will compound the need for effective management. The issue of divergent experiences is illustrated by the case of Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve (DBR) in China (Lindberg et al. 1996). Visitor survey results suggest that many DBR visitors (almost all of whom are domestic) are motivated by the opportunity to view scenery in the reserve, as well as to learn about nature. These motivations lead to support for restricting activities, including infrastructure development, that might threaten natural features. Nonetheless, observation of visitor behaviour in DBR suggests that these responses should be interpreted cautiously and with due regard to the cultural context. For example, there is a much higher tolerance for littering in the reserve than would be the case in many western reserves.
Moreover, cross-cultural evaluations of human relationships with the natural environment suggest that, relative to western cultures, eastern cultures tend to favour human manipulation of nature in order to enhance its appeal, in contrast to preservation of nature in a pristine state (Kellert 1996). Thus, DBR visitors may be more tolerant of human changes to the nature reserve than would be true of visitors in many western reserves (this tolerance extends to the acceptance of, and possibly preference for, buildings with modern material like concrete rather than more natural materials like wood).
Though little empirical research has been conducted on cross-cultural motivations and desired experiences in ecotourism settings, observation and discussion with researchers and reserve managers in many countries suggest that substantial cross-cultural differences exist. The example of litter suggests that perceptions of depreciation and environmental degradation caused by other visitors varies across cultures. Similarly, perceptions of crowding may vary across cultures. Of the 242 respondents (in the DBR visitor survey) who reported that they saw at least 200 other people during their visit, fewer than 25 % selected the number 5 or higher on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being not at all crowded to 9 being extremely crowded. The reserve is located within two hours of a city of six million people, and it is unlikely that visitors expect a wilderness experience. Nonetheless, the level of crowding in the reserve probably is much more tolerable to Chinese visitors than to western visitors.
Of course, there is variability within cultures, with certain individuals and groups in Chinese society being more sensitive than others to environmental degradation and crowding. For example, Xing (1993) notes the high levels of visitation at Wuyishan, Changbaishan, and Huangshan reserves (with the latter having more than 10,000 visitors per day during peak periods) and observes that such visitation levels, and associated infrastructure, may devalue the natural beauty of the reserves.
Other trends also will cause changes in the visitor market. For example, the population in many source countries is ageing. Though older visitors may still seek ecotourism experiences, they are more likely to desire more comfort and greater site accessibility than their younger counterparts.
Options: Ecotourism is a business and, therefore, the ecotourism product needs to adapt to changes in the marketplace (or choose to accept static or declining visitation if adaptation will lead to changes that are unacceptable with respect to other management objectives). Thus, if natural areas are to take full advantage of ecotourism, they will need to evaluate the market most suited to the ecotourism product offered, as well as tailor the product to the desired market as far as practical and desirable. It may be difficult to simultaneously satisfy markets with disparate desires and tolerances, such that a variety of spatially or temporally separated ecotourism experiences may need to be offered within or across natural areas.