Overview of Ecotourism (Ecological Tourism)
Before discussing the advantages and disadvantages of ecotourism, I believe it is best to come up with a clear concept and definition of what Ecotourism actually is (also commonly referred to as Ecological Tourism). There are numerous definitions surrounding 'Ecotourism' but I reckon the Collins Dictionary definition of 'Ecotourism' sums it up rather nicely: "tourism that is designed to contribute to the protection of the environment or at least minimize the damage to it, often involving travel to areas of natural interest in developing countries or participation in environment projects". In looser words -- Ecotourism is a term used to describe the act of 'tourism' itself alongside the promotion of environmental friendliness and conservation of wildlife (i.e nature). For a more detailed overview and greater understanding of what ecotourism is really about then I highly recommend that you check out the fantastic speech from John Kasaona on 'How Poachers Became Caretakers'.
Ecotourism Case Study: Namibia - 'How Poachers became Caretakers'
Advantages of Ecotourism
1. Environmental Conservation -- A Sustainable Choice
The entire concept behind ecological tourism is for people to visit exotic landscapes and aid the protection and conservation of nature -- hence ecotourism offers an incentive for local people to help preserve and protect their environment and wildlife as it can provide them with a 'sustainable' income from tourism. This, as opposed to the exploitation of their surrounding environment for its natural resources --that can only be used to make a quick singular unsustainable gain with rather negative environmental impacts. (Such an example can be observed in the video above with the view of poachers - short term gain and caretakers - long term gain -- experienced in Namibia)
2. Benefits to Local Small Business and People
With the industry of tourism, comes an increase in the demand for local jobs and hence correspondingly an increase in employment for locals -- that are often provided through merchandise retailers, restaurants, tour guides, hotels etc. This then contributes towards boosting the local economy -- by meeting local people's economic needs as well as teaching them life-long commercial skills with the provision of experience and assistance -- therefore genuinely 'bettering' the welfare of local people and businesses.
3. A Cultural Education
Although most of the debate on the pros and cons of ecotourism lies around the environmental and economical aspects, it is also important to consider the cultural and social impacts also. As tourists visit local indigenous people and exotic landscapes and wildlife, there is a cultural education to be found. By showing tourists a wider and broader perspective of nature and differing cultures, they are perhaps instilled with a greater conservation ethic -- to act more 'green'.
4. A 'Better' and 'Greener' Tourism
As tourism is, and probably always will be, a huge industry within modern day living, ecological tourism can at the very least -- despite its negatives if mismanaged -- be considered a step in the right direction towards resolving and mitigating the potential outcomes of global climate change. Although ecotourism, as of yet isn't perfect, the concept of it can certainly can be judged to be better than that of traditional tourism.
If you have any additional benefits of ecotourism please share them below in the comments box.
Disadvantages of Ecotourism
1. The Local People
In some circumstances, especially when ecotourism is severely mismanaged, local people do not always benefit economically or socially as a result of ecotourism. When assuming an influx of tourism, many often overlook the type of employment that local people get into, where they are usually low paid service jobs that are based on temporary contracts. Moreover, although countries such as South Africa are benefiting economically and commercially from eco-tourism (or more appropriately here: eco-terrorism), it is also accompanied with rather negative impacts on its people -- forced exits and displacements from their homes as well as evidence of "gross violations of fundamental rights".
2. Fails to Meet the 'Eco' Standard
As ecotourism is essentially a commercial industry (with the primary objective of profit maximization), there is evidence of certain companies simply "green-washing" -- which is the process of simply making the holiday appear eco-friendly when it is in fact not. There is not much substance needed for a company to term a holiday 'ecotourism' and they often fail to get scrutinized by consumers. Hence, leading a holiday through false pretences. For example, a 'wildlife theme park' is allowed to term itself as being 'Eco'. There is however a call for regulation -- such as a Green Star system, which signals to consumers how committed the company is to environmental friendliness.
3. Wildlife Disturbance
Even with the promotion of ecotourism and environmental friendliness -- it is still inevitable on some levels that 'tourism' will cause a negative impact on wildlife through consumer pressures (e.g. Polar bears are meant to conserve energy through the winter months, however as a result of ecotourism, this causes them to be constantly aware -- causing them to burn much of the needed energy -- 43 metres is the suggested distance not to disturb them, however is this good enough for the demands of consumers who want close up photos?).
4. Environmental Degradation
It is almost certain that as a result of tourism, there will be some negative impacts on the environment whether it be through littering (accidental or otherwise) through to the unplanned destructive infrastructure. Even tourists who claim to be environmentally sophisticated and aware, usually fail to realise the damage them simply travelling to their destination through means of non-renewable energy e.g. "10,000 km consumes 100 litres of fuel per person"  nor the true extent impacts of their stay -- from the food they are eating to the water they are drinking.
If you have any additional drawbacks of ecotourism then please share them in the comments box below.
Summary of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Ecotourism
Although the above list of positives and negatives of ecotourism was a rather 'tongue in cheek' attempt, it has hopefully given you a more 'balanced' and 'informed' view on the impacts of ecotourism. However, it should be noted that not all ecotourism can be judged the same, each company and eco-holiday will have its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses regarding its environmental friendliness. There is still a lack of 'regulation and accreditation' regarding exactly what constitutes ecotourism, so although there is tourism activities that are in fact environmentally friendly, there are also 'wildlife theme parks' and 'eco-helicopter rides' and mismanaged 'ecotourism' programmes that get away with being dubbed as 'ecotourism' -- despite little regard for its true principles. However, on the whole ecotourism as a concept is obviously a good thing -- the promotion and protection of nature -- despite some issues of mismanagement it is certainly a step in the right direction.
If you have any additional advantages and disadvantages of ecotourism or any general remarks and experiences, then I encourage you to share it in the comments box below.