Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ecotourism Essay Draft...

Here's a rough draft of an essay I 'm writing for my English class:

Ecotourism: Echoes of Past Mistakes
Travel and vacationing are how many people from the developed, First World cope with the daily grind. Working in a concrete, urban environment is highly stressful and understandably causes the need to “get away from it all”. Many advertisements urge, “Indulge yourself!” and consumers often do as they are told. Developing, Third World nations are desirable vacation destinations because hard-earned, First World money goes farther there. The political and social realities of these countries are barely considered by travelers, just as long as their own personal safety is ensured. Vacationers seek to be pampered and served; after all, they deserve it.

Travelers want to enjoy beautiful resorts with sparkling pools, sumptuous spreads of delicious fruit and food, and expect friendly service-personnel in crisp uniforms. For pennies on the dollar, vacationers often haggle to buy souvenirs made by the hands of local people, of rare and precious resources from the local environment. These artifacts are later hung it in a home or office and referred to as artwork when the traveler brags about their vacation stories. Little thought is given to the daily living conditions of the people of the developing countries where these travels take place. Nearly no thought is given to the amount of water and electricity used, or garbage and pollution that was caused by the extravagancies of First World vacationers.

 People from rich, powerful countries have long taken liberties with lesser, vulnerable nations in the world community. Where did this greedy and entitled mindset come from? Technological advantages held by sixteenth-century European powers opened a veritable Pandora’s Box of feeling entitled to appropriate the precious resources of others who cannot defend themselves. When a powerful country exerts political control over another for its own benefit, it is called Imperialism. When a selfish country sends its own people to another for the purpose of resource extraction for its own benefit, it is called Colonialism (Stanford). The social, economic and ecological destruction caused by these practices, both past and present, are outside of the scope of this modest paper. It must be mentioned that it is an unfortunate reality that many First World consumers currently enjoying the numerous benefits of these practices are largely ignorant of how their comparatively extravagant cultures came to be. To what extent, then, can the average First World consumer realistically be expected to consider the consequences of the luxuries they enjoy and resources they so mindlessly consume while in a vacationing mindset?

If the ways the people of the First World treat their own countries is any indicator of their intentions towards those they visit while on holiday, the outlook is bleak. Natural resources including water, forests, minerals and animals have been depleted to shocking levels in the United States (Withgott, Brennan). Pollution and greenhouse gas emission standards in our country are being undermined for political gain (Withgott, Brennan 292). Depleted resources are what historically drove the countries of Imperial Europe to seek colonial acquisitions in the first place, and while some developed countries in Europe and Asia have taken measures to curb their consumption of resources and pollution output (Withgott, Brennan) complications caused by the current global economic crisis threatens to take priority over protecting the environment.

  Immediate gratification often takes precedence over more difficult, abstract concepts like frugality, stewardship or conserving the ecology, whether it be one’s own country or a far-off land only visited for brief pleasure. When roughly a third to a quarter of American households have less than $500 in the bank (Weston) there are many who still vacation, even though they cannot truly afford such an indulgence. These individuals often use credit to pay for their vacations; they borrow resources from an unknown future. Those who can still find it financially responsible to afford international vacations in real-time, amidst these bleak economic conditions, are likely to seek the best experience they can get, for as little of their First World money as possible. The travel and vacation industries follow suit; after all, they have a business to run. Meanwhile, 10% of greenhouse gases are caused by air travel (International Ecotourism Society). By many accounts, First World inhabitants are not managing their own resources well.

The textbook being used by Ohlone College for this semester’s Biology 108 class, Essential Environment: the Science Behind the Stories, argues that an emerging industry known as “Ecotourism” can be a solution to global environmental degradation. Cultivating an environmentally-friendly hospitality industry is described as an alternate choice for developing countries, rather than to industrialize, as has the First World. Authors Withgott and Brennan present that global and ecological awareness is on the rise and some consumers are becoming more mindful about their patterns of resource use. These well-meaning individuals consider the impact they make on the environment, including when they plan for a trip. The United Nations called 2002 “The Year of Ecotourism” (Vanderheiden and Sisson 1) and urged travelers to make environmentally considerate choices when planning their vacation accommodations. Though the First World has squandered its own resources and much of the Third World’s as well, it now asks the remaining, yet-developed countries to conserve for the sake of the planet and nice vacations? This is far easier said than done, and the group that must cooperate is also making the request. Vanderheiden and Sisson write:

Ecotourism must not be reduced to a kind of product to be passively consumed, but must be viewed as a way of experiencing people and places through travel combined with an ongoing concern for them—as an activity rather than a commodity. Only then might ecotourism deliver on the laudable goals that it promises. (13) 

Unless unprecedented change occurs in the behaviors and attitudes of First World travelers, Ecotourism holds the potential to become yet another incarnation of imperialism or colonialism.

             The British website ResponsibleTravel features a list of common “myths” about Ecotourism and addresses the fears travelers may experience when considering this new type of entertainment. Such concerns as “It's all hard work, you can’t do any fun activities” and “It’s expensive” echo the thoughts of many faced with something as daunting as a change in their self-indulgent behaviors. The website for The International Ecotourism Society assures that “anyone can be a responsible traveler! You can get back to nature, or bathe in luxury”. While both sources attempt to give reassuring exceptions to these trivial concerns, academic research is to the contrary. In the Journal of Sustainable Development, Xilian Wang writes, “…ecotourism has certain educational connotation” (1) and asserts that unless consumers are well-instructed about the ramifications of tourism and the reasons for preserving the environment of their vacation destination, Ecotourism is for naught. This is a drastic change from our imperial past and current selfish consumer-culture. Are enough First World inhabitants capable of putting their egos aside, sacrificing their pocketbooks and learning a new definition of vacation, so this can really work?

Perhaps it is too precarious to rely on individuals to make this type of sacrifice. Wang further writes that, “The government should speed up establishing and releasing a relatively complete ecotourism act and details about its implementation” (3) which may be possible in the country that paper was published, but lesser so in a country where the phrase “it takes an act of Congress” means the same as “nearly impossible”.


Still, Ecotourism does have its fan base. In Ocean and Coastal Management, Carlos Libosada addresses the sentiments of the local people of Ecotourism destinations and writes:

Often regarded as an economic justification for resource conservation, ecotourism is providing a concept that is easily understood and appreciated by local communities and stakeholders. However, ecotourism is still a business methodology that can be subjected to misunderstanding, abuse and misrepresentation which could also lead to negative environmental and sociocultural impacts. 

This leads to the question, “Who is the boss of these Ecotourism businesses?” Unless local communities are in decision-making positions of power, this is still a manifestation of imperialism. Unless the economic benefits of Ecotourism are made available to the local communities that provide hospitality services, and they are in-turn able to come visit First World countries during their own vacations, Ecotourism is still colonialism in disguise. The conclusion to Eugene Ezebilo’s contribution to the Journal of Sustainable Development entitled “Economic Value of Ecotourism to Local Communities in the Nigerian Rainforest Zone” states:

Local communities often support projects which they believe will contribute to their livelihood. If they do not expect to derive benefit from a project they may not cooperate with the managers of the project. 

Why aren’t the local communities the managers? This brings to mind stories of Canadian vacationers in Cuba, who enjoy all offered to them by the beautiful vacation resort where they’re staying, but dare not venture outside the tall surrounding walls, which are watched by armed guards (Interview).

After the 2004 tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia, it was reported that tourists still arrived to flooded vacation resorts, demanding the services they had paid for weeks in advance (Interview). Will the developed world ever “get it”? While the queens and kings of the imperial world may be gone, their socially irresponsible and selfish attitudes remain. Ecotourism holds the potential to be quite beneficial, but people must redefine fundamental behaviors and assumptions about many things, including the word “vacation” and all it implies.  

Works Cited

Withgott, Jay, and Scott Brennan. Essential Environment: the Science Behind the Stories. Third ed. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings, 2009. Print.

"10 Myths about Responsible Travelling." Responsible Travel. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Libosada, Carlos M. "Business Or Leisure? Economic Development And Resource Protection Protection—Concepts And Practices In Sustainable Ecotourism." Ocean & Coastal Management 52.7 (2009): 390-394. Environment Complete. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Xilian, Wang. "Critical Aspects Of Sustainable Development In Tourism: Advanced Ecotourism Education." Journal Of Sustainable Development 3.2 (2010): 261-263. Environment Complete. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Ezebilo, Eugene E., Leif Mattsson, and Carolyn A. Afolami. "Economic Value Of Ecotourism To Local Communities In The Nigerian Rainforest Zone." Journal Of Sustainable Development 3.1 (2010): 51-60. Environment Complete. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Vanderheiden, Steve, and Melanie W. Sisson. "Ethically Responsible Leisure? Promoting Social And Environmental Justice Through Ecotourism." Environmental Philosophy 7.2 (2010): 33-47. Environment Complete. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

"Colonialism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.

Weston, Liz P. "Why You Need $500 in the Bank." Bundle. 8 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.

            "Your Travel Choice Makes A Difference." The International Ecotourism Society. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.
"Canadian Relatives Visiting Cuba and Other Traveling Anecdotes." Personal interview. 16 Nov. 2011.


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