Ecotourism: Definition, Principles, Benefits & Costs

The Study HQ

What is Ecotourism?

Ecological tourism is nature-based tourism that involves people traveling to relatively undisturbed areas in order to relax and enjoy nature. It is a type of tourism that involves traveling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the objectives of admiring, studying, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any cultural features found therein.

Ecological tourism pays special attention to the conservation of the natural environment where such tourism activities take place. It is a tool for conservation of natural and cultural resources and an instrument for sustainable development, especially in rural areas. It can provide much-needed revenues for the protection of national parks and other natural areas that might not be available from other sources.

Ecological tourism, therefore, is a viable economic development alternative for local communities with few other income-generating options. It also promotes small and medium-sized tourism enterprises and emphasizes local participation, ownership, and business opportunities, particularly for rural people.

Principles of Ecotourism

There are many guiding principles for ecological tourism. These principles, when followed, ensure that ecotourism is successful and sustainable. They are as follows:

  • Involves Travel to Natural Areas: Ecotourism is a form of tourism that consists of people traveling to relatively pristine and undisrupted natural areas. It is quite distinct from other conventional forms of tourism because natural areas are the focus of the visitation.
  • Minimize Environmental Impact: Responsible travel to natural areas is conscious of the environment and minimizes environmental degradation and impact.
  • Build Environmental Consciousness: Ecotourism is an avenue to create awareness about the fragile nature of the ecosystem. Ecotourism not only provides a means for one to recreate, but it also creates a platform for people to learn about the environment.
  • Respect Local Culture: Ecotourism should also respect the etiquette and cultures of the local communities. Sustainable ecotourism is practiced when ecotourists take into consideration the rightful place of the local communities. There should be an avoidance of ostentatious displays of wealth and other alien activities.
  • Provide Direct Financial Benefits for Conservation: A major aim of ecological tourism is to provide financial benefits and revenue in order to conserve the site's natural resources. Revenue from ecotourism comes in different forms, ranging from site entry charges to accommodation fees.
  • Provide Economic Benefits for Local Communities: Ecotourism also provides economic benefits to local communities. Eco-tourists patronize the goods and services of local communities when visiting a natural area.
  • Support Democratic Movements: Ecotourism also supports democratic movements geared towards the conservation of nature and natural resources. Such movements should stand against the irrational exploitation of natural resources and advocate for the need for the government to put more effort into conservation.

Ecotourism Stakeholders

There are many stakeholders in ecotourism, with each group having its own specific values and objectives. Thus, their interests make constant demands on destination management. Stakeholders can be classified into three categories:

1. Primary Stakeholders

These groups have a direct interest in and are affected in different ways by ecotourism management policies. They include eco-tourists, host communities, destination managers, and the government. Without this category of stakeholders, ecotourism is nonexistent. The ecotourism industry is significantly dependent on the travel of an individual to a natural area, i.e., the eco-tourist.

The existence of the destination itself is subject to the acceptance, support, and participation of the host community; if visitors do not feel welcomed in the area visited, the ecotourism concept is defeated. Desti-nation managers are key to the decision-making processes and daily operations of the destination for sustainability.

Also, the ecotourism industry is largely dependent on the government. Political will, appropriate development policies, and funding by the government propel the industry.

2. Secondary Stakeholders

These groups of stakeholders are equally important in the ecotourism industry. They include volunteers in ecotourism destinations, concessionaires, license and permit holders, land owners (in and around the area), media, tour operators, the hospitality industry, etc. These groups of stakeholders provide support services in the ecotourism industry.

3. Tertiary Stakeholders

They have an indirect link to the ecotourism industry. They include educational institutions (who teach ecotourism practices), economic development organizations, allied governmental agencies, profit-making private sectors (e.g., banking industry), environmental groups, other non-governmental organizations, and society in general.

Protected Areas as Sites for Ecotourism

A protected area is an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources and managed through legal or other effective means. 

There are six categories of protected areas as identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), based on the primary management objective.

Protected Areas by Categories According to IUCN

  1. Strict Nature Reserve: a protected area managed mainly for science.
  2. Wilderness Area: This protected area is managed mainly for wilderness protection.
  3. National Park: A protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation.
  4. Natural Monument: A protected area managed mainly for the conservation of specific natural features.
  5. Habitat/Species Management Area: A protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention.
  6. Protected Landscape/Seascape: The protected area is managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation.
  7. Managed Resource Protected Area: The protected area is managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems.

Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (2002)

In all the various categories, recreation and tourism are likely to occur as part of the management objectives, except for Category I (Strict Nature Reserve). Categories II (National Parks) have the commemoration of tourism and cultural and historic elements as central elements of management. Protected areas are very attractive settings for the growing demand for outdoor appreciation activities in natural environments. While visitors have the opportunity to participate in desired activities, the values of the protected areas must be maintained.

Benefits and Costs of Tourism in Protected Areas

Tourism in protected areas produces benefits and costs. The goal, however, is to maximize the benefits while minimizing the costs. Protected areas are established primarily to preserve some type of biophysical process, such as wildlife population, habitat, natural landscape, or cultural heritage. Tourists visit these protected areas to understand and appreciate the values for which the area was established and to gain personal benefits.

Benefits of Tourism in Protected Areas

The benefits are in three main categories: enhancing economic opportunities; protecting the natural and cultural heritage; and advancing the quality of life for all concerned.

  • Increases jobs for local residents
    • Enhancing economic opportunity
    • Protecting natural and cultural heritage
  • Increases income
    • Stimulates new ecotourism enterprises and diversifies the local economy.
    • Encourages local manufacture of goods  
    • Obtains new markets and foreign exchange
  • Improves living standards
    • Generates local tax revenues
    • Enable employees to learn new skills
    • Increases funding for protected areas and local communities
    • Protects ecological processes and watersheds
    • Conserves biodiversity (genes, species, and ecosystems).
    • Protects, conserves, and values cultural and built heritage resources.
    • Creates economic value and protects resources that otherwise have no perceived value to residents or represent a cost rather than a benefit. 
    • Transmits conservation values through education and interpretation
    • Helps to communicate and interpret the values of natural and built heritage and cultural inheritance to visitors and residents.
    • Supports research and development of good environmental practices and management systems.
    • Improves local facilities, transportation, and communication
    • Helps develop self-financing mechanisms for protected area operations
  • Enhancing the quality of life
    • Promotes aesthetic, spiritual, and other values related to well-being.
    • Supports environmental education for visitors and locals.
    • Establishes attractive environments for destinations for residents and visitors, which may support other compatible activities.
    • Improves inter-cultural understanding
  • Encourages the development of culture, crafts, and arts
    • Increases the educational level of local people
    • Encourages people to learn the languages and cultures of foreign tourists.
    • Encourages local people to value their local culture and environment.

Costs of Tourism in Protected Areas

The costs are likewise divided into three categories: financial and economic costs, social costs, and environmental costs.

  • Financial and economic costs
    • Increased demand for goods, services, and facilities
    • Increased costs of goods and services, which the community might be unable to afford Higher tax burdens for local communities
    • Increased foreign ownership and raised property values Increased costs to the protected area management as it strives to add additional personnel and facilities needed by tourists.
    • Vulnerability to external factors beyond control, such as natural disasters, currency fluctuations, the competitive nature of markets, or political instability, especially in tourism-dependent areas Leakage of tourist expenditures
    • Seasonality of employment (especially during the closed season)
  • Social costs

    • Disturbance of community activities
    • Competition for recreation places and other services
    • Increased congestion, littering, vandalism, and crime
    • Local support for protected areas can be put at risk if the needs of the local people are not established.
    • Commercialization of local traditions Attachment of negative connotations to culture by visitors
  • Environmental costs
    • Trail creation and deterioration
    • Habitat loss
    • Emissions and air pollution
    • Visual and noise impacts
    • Soil compaction and/or erosion
    • Trampling solid and human waste
    • Introduction of weeds, fungi, and exotic species
    • Wildlife disturbance, habituation, or impact
    • Water pollution (physical or biological) 
    • Taking of souvenirs (flora and fauna)
    • Increased fire risks
    • Change in wildlife habitat

Source: IUCN (2002)

Conflict Types in Protected Areas as a Result of Ecotourism Practice

Conflicts occur whenever two or more groups compete for similar resources and there is interference in the pursuit of a particular goal. The goal may be learning about nature, recreation, sport hunting, or scientific research. Therefore, within ecotourism management, conflict may be thought of as goal interference. The four main kinds of conflicts that may occur in protected areas and how they can be managed are highlighted below:

1. Conflicts between visitors and managers

Managers have a significant responsibility for the protection of protected area values, so their view may conflict with what eco-tourists are seeking. For example, managers may want to minimize human interference with wildlife habits and thus restrict where and how visitors view and take pictures of animals. Eco-tourists may want to get as close as possible to animals in order to take good pictures. These two groups may, therefore, experience goal interference with each other. This conflict may be reduced by explaining to the visitors why it is important to remain distant from wildlife.

2. Conflicts between recreationalists in the same activity.

Conflict can occur within a recreational activity. This may be as a result of overcrowding in an area or when a group is involved in a behavior considered inappropriate, unacceptable, or obnoxious by others. This type of conflict may also occur as a result of differences in skills and experience levels among recreationists. For example, the acts of a first-time visitor may upset a repeat visitor. Zoning, education and information, dispersal of use, or regulation enforcement may reduce this conflict.

3. Conflicts between Recreationists Engaged in Different Activities

Conflict can occur between users of different recreation activities, e.g., people engaged in learning about nature and those engaged in active recreation. While the earlier group expects a level of quietness, the other group naturally tends to make noise. Zoning, either spatially or temporarily, is one of the best ways to reduce this conflict.

4. Conflicts between Recreation and Non-Recreation Activities

Conflicts can occur between recreation and non-recreation activities, for example, in protected areas where land is used for timber harvesting or farming. Wildlife viewers and timber harvesters often have conflicting opinions about the use of protected areas. Careful zoning, management of visitors and non-recreational activities, and information about why other activities are permitted may reduce this conflict. In protected areas where such uses as traditional forms of agriculture are considered part of the landscape heritage and support wildlife (Category V), such information will need to emphasize the conservation benefits that some resource use can bring.


Zoning refers to the act of dividing an ecotourism destination into smaller units (zones) with respect to the peculiar characteristics of the various units and the number and extent of ecotourism activities they can support.

While there is no specific arrangement as to how the zones can be designated, various models have been developed. For example, in protected areas such as national parks,

There are five zones. In the core area, no tourist activity is allowed; this zone is only open for specified research, such as environmental monitoring. As the rings extend outwards, so do the extent and amount of ecotouristic activities allowed. The recreational and buffer zones are open extensively to ecotourism activities. Zoning in protected areas enables the protection of sensitive species in the core and intensive areas while concentrating ecotourism activities in less sensitive areas (recreational and buffer zones).

Ecotourism Destinations in Nigeria

The ideal sites for ecotourism globally are protected areas, especially national parks. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) defined national parks as their Category II type of protected areas to serve conservation and ecotourism purposes. Globally, there are 6555 national parks (IUCN 2006). 

Nigeria is home to seven national parks across the various ecological zones in the country (table 9.4), covering a total land area of approximately 20,156 km2, i.e., about three percent (3%) of the total land area of the country (932,768 km2). Other ecotourism destinations are botanical gardens, zoological gardens (table 9.5), waterfalls (e.g., Owu Waterfalls, Olumirin Waterfalls, Arinta Waterfalls, etc.), rock outcrops and formations (e.g., Idanre Hills, Olosunta rock, Zuma rock, Olumo rock, Aso rock, etc.), lakes (e.g., Oyan Lake, Kainji Lake), dams (Kainji Dam, Asejire Dam, etc.), beaches (e.g., Elegushi Beach, Coconut Beach, Eleko Beach, Badagry Beach, Alpha Beach, etc.), warm springs (e.g., Ikogosi warm spring, Wikki springs, etc.), and so on (NNPS 2014).

Post a Comment


Post a Comment (0)