Cover Image
close this bookEcotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)
close this folder3. ECOTOURISM
close this folder3.4 The Dimensions of Ecotourism
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentEnvironmental Dimension
View the documentExperiential Dimension
View the documentSociocultural Dimension
View the documentEconomic Dimension

Economic Dimension

The final dimension is economic. There are various stakeholders in ecotourism, from operators to natural area managers to local communities. One thing they have in common is that they often seek economic benefits from ecotourism, whether it be sales and profits for operators, user fee revenues for natural area management, or jobs and income for local communities.

With respect to natural area finance, many public natural area systems around the world have encountered severe financial difficulties as the number of national parks and other areas has grown while funding has remained stable or declined (Eagles 1995; Reynolds 1995). As a result, many area managers and environmentalists have turned to ecotourism as a source of revenue, as a means to at least cover the ecotourism-related park costs that historically have been financed by governments.

There have been numerous studies of user fees in the ecotourism context (e.g., Laarman and Gregersen 1996; Lindberg and Enriquez 1994; Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996; Mak and Moncur 1995; Tisdell 1996). Though a full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper, several points are worth noting (additional discussion is provided in Section 4). First, the appropriate fee system will depend on the objectives for the area. If the objective is to generate revenue, fees should be relatively high. If the objective is to maximize the number of visitors to provide job opportunities for local businesses, than the fees should be low or non-existent.

Second, there are strong economic reasons for charging user fees, including that ecotourism generates costs that would otherwise need to be financed by non-users (Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996; Yong 1996). In the case of developed country visitors to developing country public natural areas, it is particularly inappropriate for relatively poor local non-users to subsidize the visits of relatively wealthy users (Lindberg 1991).

Third, most analyses conclude that current fee levels at most sites could be increased with little or no impact on the number of visitors. In cases where fee increases would reduce the number of visitors, such increases may remain appropriate as a means to maximize total revenue and/or reduce negative environmental, experiential, or social impacts. Fourth, often, there are opportunities for increasing non-fee revenues, such as through donation programmes or through souvenir sales.

With respect to job creation, natural areas provide many benefits to society, but few are tangible. Ecotourism-related jobs are one of the most tangible benefits provided by these areas. In some cases, these jobs can provide direct alternatives to practices, such as poaching of forest products, that threaten natural area conservation. In other cases, the jobs will simply, but importantly, diversify local economies (Lindberg and Enriquez 1994). As ecotourism jobs increase, it is likely that support for the natural areas providing the jobs will increase (Han and Guo 1995; Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996). Conversely, if ecotourism is perceived to generate more costs (e.g., reduced access to the area and its resources) than benefits, it may reduce local support for natural areas.

The economic impacts of tourism, or any economic activity, can be grouped into three categories: direct, indirect, and induced. Direct impacts are those arising from the initial tourism spending, such as money spent at a restaurant. The restaurant buys goods and services (inputs) from other businesses, thereby generating indirect impacts. In addition, the restaurant employees spend part of their wages to buy various goods and services, thereby generating induced impacts. Of course, if the restaurant purchases the goods and services from outside the region, then the money provides no indirect impact to the region, it leaks away. Figure 3 illustrates some of these impacts and leakages.

Figure 3: Tourism’s Economic Impact

Several studies have assessed the local employment benefits of ecotourism (Lindberg, Enriquez and Sproule 1996; Powell and Chalmers 1995; Shackley 1996). Not surprisingly, the level of benefits varies widely. In part, this is due to variations in the level of direct impact (tourist expenditure), which may depend on the quality of the attraction, access, and so on. In part, this is due to variations in the level of linkage (or, conversely, the level of leakage), which may depend on the size of the economy and other factors.3 The following estimates provide indications of the percentage of tourism spending leaking away from host country economies:

· 70% in Nepal
· 60% in Thailand
· 55 % for the typical developing country

3 There is often wide variation in leakage estimates across sites. This is partly a result of the type of tourism development and the size of the economy being evaluated. Small-scale nature tourism tends to use more local goods than does large-scale traditional tourism. However, smaller economies may have more leakages because a lower diversity of goods is produced in small economies than in large economies. Variation in leakage estimates may also be due to definitions and methods used.

More than 90% of tourism spending is thought to leak away from communities near most nature tourism sites (Lindberg, 1991; Brandon, 1996; see also Soemodinoto, Lubis, and Oktaviany 1996).

Though the high level of leakage should be considered and should be reduced where possible, one should remember that this leakage not only results from the nature of the tourism industry, which requires substantial expenditure before arrival on-site, but also from the nature of the remote communities where ecotourism occurs. Other economic activities in these communities probably also will exhibit high levels of leakage simply because the local economies are small and not very diverse. Moreover, though the number of jobs created will be low, in rural economies even a few jobs can make a big difference. Still, ecotourism benefits should not be oversold, or there may be a backlash as reality fails to live up to expectations.