Reflections on Ecotourism (3)

So, returning to the three pillars of sustainable tourism, we recall that they’re environmental, social and economic. We can expand them out a little if we like, to : physical environment / conservationist , socio-cultural / societal and economic / profitable. They’re about retaining enough of the first two and having enough of the third.

And we can all relate to these concepts. Let’s look at them overly simplistically.

If tourism results in damage to, or destruction of, the natural environment (the very thing, perhaps, which brings the tourists to a certain location in the first place), then the writing is clearly on the wall.

If tourism to witness a different culture results in degradation of that local culture, its traditions and mores, then, once again, we can see how unsustainable that would be. Although we can go to Africa and meet locals with Offaly jerseys on, is that really good ?

Thirdly, if supplying the tourism products and services is not economically sustainable to the local business, then what benefit is that to the provider ?

It is this third pillar – the one which attracts the least frenzy from the green tourists and eco-warriors out there – I want to discuss. I’d like to get your feedback.

You see, in my experience, despite some best intentions, this is the weakest pillar. In my experience (and I’m not saying it is always the case), the very providers of ecotourism and green tourism products are often not gaining sufficiently.

But what I don’t want to do here today is start hammering the intermediaries. I’m not going to talk about blood-sucking tour operators who take the largest chunks of profit for themselves. No. Why ? Because it is incumbent on all of us ecotourists to deal directly with service providers, where possible. Where not, try to seek out local, small-scale intermediaries who have a true relationship with the providers themselves and who do not take excessive profit margins.

It is perhaps the very nature of ecotourism providers (and, again, I stress that I am not saying this is true of all), that they are not all that motivated by cash. They might be people who just switch off from the modern, wasteful, pollutant, greedy, selfish world, as they see it. They might be ‘tree-huggers’, they might be ‘alternatives’, they might be ‘new age hippies’.

To many ecotourism providers, words like ‘marketing’, ‘sales’, ‘growth’, ‘profits’, and so on, are anathema. In many ways, that is a wonderful thing and a beautiful standpoint to hold dear. But wherein lies the sustainability ?

Of course, those who champion all the aforementioned words and concepts view life from another position. To them, profit and money are the bases of our existence. To them, sustainability can only be, primarily at least, financial and, therefore, economic.

This, surely, is the fundamental argument about sustainability and ecotourism. That no, not just economic sustainability will suffice. That yes, a balance must be struck between having enough and retaining enough. That yes, genuine ecotourism providers deserve our support because, honestly, they probably won’t be out banging on our doors for it.


Some Interesting Blogs

I’ve had a quick sconce at these green blogs recently. Try them out if you have a few minutes.

Jessica Blair in the US presents you with her Green Gift a Day. Whether you can actually get any of these things in Ireland, or sent here, is another question.

While I don’t like the fact that the site seems to be anonymous (apologies to whoever if I haven’t seen where they do indeed identify themselves), nevertheless, there’s some good information in here.

The Blog of TIES, it actually has surprisingly little in it, with few entries. So this is not really a recommendation, rather just to let you know about it and keep an eye on it if you want.

Some nice articles. I’m not sure who the guy is and don’t know where he’s getting the articles from (maybe they’re his own), but still …

Biebrza NP – Total Wildlife Protection to Grow

River Biebrza in flood, Biebrza NP, Poland.

River Biebrza in flood, Biebrza NP, Poland.

Poland’s NPWS has decided to increase the area within Biebrza National Park that will be covered by total protection.

The Park, which covers a total of 60,000 hectares and is Poland’s largest NP, will from January contain 7,200 hectares of totally protected forest lands, an increase of 60%. Total protection means lands are kept away from man’s intervention. Nature is left to her own devices.

Biebrza NP is also beginning the process of application to become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which would give the Park even greater prestige.

The Park protects Europe’s largest marsh and swamp area, a landscape of truly international importance, based around the wide valleys of the Biebrza and Narew rivers in Poland’s North East. It is home to many bird species, as well as wolves, elk, deer, wild boar and many more.

Tourism Pure leads walking tours to Biebrza NP each year, using only the services of local guides, accommodation and transport.

Some Pictures from Poland

It has taken me a while, but I hope I’ve got the hang of embedding a You Tube slide show into this Blog. If I have succeeded, then I’ll try another few over the coming weeks.

The background music is the beautiful Mazurka Opus 68/2, by Poland’s Chopin (1827).

Ecotourism Recommendations

Over the past number of years, I’ve had reason to visit these fabulous ecotourism spots. I’d have no hesitation in recommending them to you – if you recognise in yourself the type of person who constitutes their “target market”. Not everywhere might suit your tastes, but one of them surely will.

Ard Nahoo Health Farm * Eco Cabins * Yoga * Retreats

Ard Nahoo, Leitrim

Ard Nahoo, Leitrim

Visit and relax in Noeleen’s piece of heaven in Leitrim’s hillsides. I could go into the details, but, to be honest, there’s no need. Everything she does is positive and well thought out, yet calm and relaxed at the same time. If you like your yoga, health retreat, relaxation, but want to avoid the formulaic offer of today’s soulless, white-painted hotel spas and all that goes with them, drop in here.

The Gyreum Eco Hostel

The Gyreum, Sligo

The Gyreum, Sligo

More than slightly strange, peculiar and down right odd mound-shaped eco hostel, The Gyreum, run by Colum, is out on a hill in southern Sligo, overlooking Carrowkeel megalithic tombs. A great place to have some craic and chill in a style of accommodation you simply will not find anywhere else on this planet. If shared living is not for you, then look elsewhere.

Crann Óg Ecological Holidays and Classes

Crann Óg, Galway

Crann Óg, Galway

Flor and Marion run a beautifully located rural yoga space, eco accommodation and organic garden. With a back drop of wonderful native woodland, this place is really special. The amount of work that has been put in is surpassed perhaps only by Flor’s ability to entertain and tell you all you want to know about nature, spirituality and environmental education.


Léim Siar Bed & Breakfast, Self Catering

Léim Siar, Mayo

Léim Siar, Mayo

Hannah and Gerry’s B&B and self catering apartment are situated at the very tip of Mayo’s awesome Mullet Peninsula, beyond Belmullet town. Hannah is dedicated to moving her place towards ecotourism. She already has solar panels and geothermal heating in her lovely modern house. If it’s a spectacular ocean setting you’re looking for, then take the long drive to Léim Siar. When you get there, you’ll know it’s next stop America.

Reflections on Ecotourism (2)

It should include education.

It should include education.

There are a lot of comments out there in cyberspace about what is and what is not ecotourism.

Let’s look at one definition (from TIES – The International Ecotourism Society). They say that ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas, that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.

While that is fine and dandy, it just doesn’t cut it for me. Flor Burke, a great eco-friendly brain if ever there was one, talks about ‘education’. I think it’s his favourite word, or one of a shortlist anyway. You see, ecotourism must be quite a bit more than just travel that doesn’t damage the environment and puts some money in the pocket of providers. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that – it’s all good. But where’s the reference to education, the learning ? Where’s the interaction with local people, the cultural aspect ?

When I bring groups to Poland each year, I ensure there’s a meeting with local people. Of course, interaction is limited, because we don’t speak Polish and they don’t speak English. But we do a presentation about our tourism businesses, so they can learn, we can learn and ask eachother questions through an interpreter. It’s crude, but nice.

We stay in local accommodation, owned and run by local people. We eat local produce. We travel in a locally owned minibus, driven by a local driver. We use a local guide, who teaches us as we go.

Perhaps the definition adopted by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) is better. They say that ecotourism is “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature and accompanying cultural features, both past and present, that promotes conservation, has a low visitor impact and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

Lovely, but a bit wordy. Clearly, there’s a bit more on people and culture. But it’s still lacking on education.

The Greenbox, on the other hand, does include education :

“Ecotourism is travel that is small scale, low impact, culturally sensitive, community and conservation orientated, primarily nature based, educational and capable of broadening people’s minds and enlivening their souls, while providing a unique experience, firmly grounded in sustainable principles and practices.”

Wow ! Try learning that mouthful off by heart. Interestingly, the version of this definition currently appearing on their website omits the words “and conservation” from the above, earlier, printed version. I hope and assume that’s just a typing error.

As an aside and a counter view, do read Todd Comen’s excellent book called “Integrated Rural Tourism” and see where he places ecotourism in the overall scheme of things.