Ecotourism: a future sustainable activity
By: Treyssi Mantilla, Dalia Benavente y Fracois Guzman
One of the most used concepts to define ecotourism was given by Héctor Ceballos Lascuráin, a pioneer of ecotourism, who in 1993 defined the concept of the discipline as:
It is traveling to visit natural areas relatively without alteration, including protected areas in order to enjoy, appreciate and study natural attractions (landscape, flora and wild fauna), as well as any cultural manifestation of the present and the past, through a process that promotes conservation, has low negative environmental and cultural impact, encourages active and socio-economically beneficial involvement of local communities. (Lascuráin, 1993)
The term "ecotourism" shows a dual interpretation. On the one hand, it implies a powerful tool for sustainable development, with an important role for local societies and, on the other hand, it represents a small segment of the universal tourism market. Nature tourism and ecotourism have become relevant resources in the economy of certain countries, such as: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal (Fraguell, R. & Muñoz, J., 2003)
Ecotourism, little by little, is becoming one of the most practiced sustainable activities today, due to in Peru there are several natural tourist destinations that attract the attention of young nature-loving tourists, who are encouraged to long walks, camping, mountain biking, etc. In addition, this kind of activity is more exercised by people who need to connect with nature and leave behind for a time the busy life of bustling and polluted cities. Ecotourism is expected to continue to progress, as in this way it helps to maintain, promote and conserve cultural heritages, nature reserves and socio-economic participation with communities, in order to promote sustainable development.
Ecotourism in indigenous communities
The Latin American region is recognized worldwide for having the highest percentage of natural biodiversity, especially in its Amazon. As Segundo Silva (2001) points out, today the Amazon can be an ideal scenario of well-being for consumers of the best products in the world, also an international platform for politically and environmentally correct offers.
Since the 19th century, it has been conceived that the habitants of autochthonous or indigenous communities are natural conservators of their territories and natural resources, being considered "natural heroes" or "natural ecologists". In other words, they play an important role in the care and protection of biodiversity, in a world in which economic, cultural and environmental changes are generated daily.
According to Azevedo Luíndia (2005, 2003), Cauper (2001), De Smith (2001) and Colvin (1994), ecotourism is developed mainly in wild areas inhabited by indigenous populations, such as the humid forests of Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. Likewise, according to the aforementioned authors, this activity seems to be one of the most viable strategies for indigenous societies because it promotes income, jobs, promotion of traditional crafts and revitalization of symbolic values.
In this context, with the possibility of developing ecotourism as a sustainable economic activity, indigenous peoples begin to be partners in these businesses while preserving their natural resources intact. Thus, since the beginning of the nineties, ecotourism is one of the tourism sectors that has been growing at an accelerated pace, generating even some controversy whenever tour operators from foreign chains intervene. In the same way, in indigenous populations, it can generate certain behaviors such as migration to other areas, the prohibition of traditional activities and the need to make new investments.
It must be taken into account that ecotourism is assumed as an environmentally sustainable form of tourism, however, if it is carried out in very fragile ecosystems it can be harmful. For this reason, ecotourism must be developed considering adequate training and social cohesion of the indigenous communities involved.
Sustainable Ecotourism and its relation to the SDGs
On September 25th, 2015, UN member states adopted 17 goals that aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people could enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. These goals are related to various activities, with the mission of optimizing their benefit for communities and the planet.
Hence, ecotourism is directly and indirectly related to each of the 17 SDGs; with objectives 8, 12 and 14 being those that promote the correct and closest sustainable development of this activity.
SDG 8 promotes decent work and economic growth. In Peru, tourism is the third economic activity that generates more direct and indirect jobs for women and young people. However, due to our country’s megadiversity, the opportunity for growth is greater. Therefore, priority should be given to MINCETUR (Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism), MINCUL (Ministry of Culture) MIMP (Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations), civil society and the private sector so that there is a correct formalization of workers and they have the necessary tools for their personal development.
SDG 12 encourages responsible consumption and production. The tourism sector is closely linked to the sale of goods produced in the communities. For this reason, it is necessary to incentivize plans that provide benefits in the market for products that include social responsibility actions with all the interested parties necessary in their production.
Finally, regarding SDGs 14 (underwater life) and 15 (life in terrestrial ecosystems). Both objectives depend on sustainable tourism that ensures proper development of various communities, but at the same time guarantees the sustainable use of marine and terrestrial resources, assisting in the conservation and preservation of biodiversity. To achieve this, adequate training is required for the direct actors of these activities so they can continue to take advantage of the resources but guarantee sustainability and attract more responsible tourists with their actions.
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