Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ecotourism and the empowerment of local communities

Ecotourism, which is currently the fastest growing form of global tourism in the world, is more prevalent today than ever before. Communities that once had very little industry and were plagued by the after effects of poaching and misguided management systems have now been able to flourish with the employment of local people. By involving local people in these programs and when a direct stimulus is returned to the community, rather than having the profits sent elsewhere, programs have been proven to be much more successful. When discussing ecotourism, it is also important to realize that these programs are not always beneficial to the local communities and many ecotourism ventures are controlled by outside operators. In many of these cases, sometimes as little as one percent of the profits acquired are being placed back into the community and instead are seen only as corporate earnings or being sent to government agencies. However, in a community based approach to ecotourism, not only is a specific habitat or species benefiting, but the quality of life of the people living in these areas often times dramatically increase.

It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that many of these programs (such as in Zambia and Zimbabwe) saw large success rates in these ecotourism programs. After fundamentally changing these programs by hiring local people and empowering the communities they lived in to take part in these venture programs; a huge turnaround was seen not only in program success but also in reduction of illegal poaching. Today numerous examples exist of programs that have become very successful largely due to community support after certain regulations were put in place. One such example can be seen with “the Narok Country Council which has jurisdiction over the Masai Mara park (which) puts money into a trust fund which is used to fund schools, cattle dips and health services which benefit the entire community (Sindiga, 1995) .” Another example can be seen with the Ngai Tahu who are “training local tribes people to deliver information to compliment tourist activities such as a highly successful Whale Watch venture. (Their) aim is that ecotourism can be both socially and economically sustainable, reviving respect for traditions and enhancing local livelihoods by providing an income for many previously unemployed people.”

While the surge in money into these local communities is generally thought of as a good thing, there are also other aspects to consider when dealing with ecotourism. While these people may be prospering economically, it is also important to look at the social and cultural systems of these communities and to make sure that this ecotourism is not disrupting traditional values or undermining the quality of life that these people would like to have. The most effective way to do this is to empower the local communities and let them be involved in deciding which ventures they think will suit them best. It should be of the utmost importance to make sure that these communities are not degraded and avoid social disempowerment at all costs in order to prevent the increase in things such as crime, begging, or prostitution. While this framework may seem very delicate, it can be done successfully and ecotourism overall should be seen as a means to benefit both people and habitats alike.,5

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