home Biodiversity Can ecotourism get its groove back?

Can ecotourism get its groove back?

Can ecotourism get its groove back?

For 20+ years Planeta.com has been the Global Journal of Practical Ecotourism. We’ve been covering the subject warts and all since 1994.

During this time …. we’ve been tracking a decline and perhaps a fatigue when it comes to the word ‘ecotourism.’

As much as I like and value my interpretation of ecotourism, it’s difficult to get across as it has multiple definitions. Nevertheless it is a focal point this week during the IUCN World Conservation Congress. Comments to follow. Here is the proposed motion:

Raising Standards in Ecotourism

OBSERVING that in 2014 tourism contributed USD 1.2 trillion (nearly 10% of global Gross Domestic Product) to the global economy, accounted for 1 in 11 jobs worldwide, and is one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world;

RECOGNISING that tourism has been highlighted in United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 8, 12, and 14 as a tool for sustainable economic growth, sustainable consumption and production practices, and for the conservation and sustainable use of nature and natural heritage;

FURTHER OBSERVING that nature-based tourism is a major tourism sector, making up more than 25% of the global travel market;

NOTING that the term ‘ecotourism’ is frequently applied to this type of tourism but that governments, NGOs, and the tourism industry have overlapping yet differing definitions, interpretations, and few precise standards for ecotourism, nature-based tourism or geotourism (based on geodiversity and geological heritage);

AWARE that the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution for the Promotion of ecotourism for poverty eradication and environmental protection and believes that “ecotourism creates significant opportunities for the conservation, protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and of natural areas”;

ALSO RECOGNISING that IUCN agrees “ecotourism can be a driver of sustainable development…if it is carefully conceived, well-managed and strictly controlled” and has undertaken significant work (e.g. guidelines and workshops) to help improve development and operation of tourism;

ALARMED that collective efforts have not yet resulted in improved practices globally and that ecotourism can be often associated with tourism operations and activities that have severe negative impacts on communities, biodiversity and geodiversity, geological heritage, places of geological interest, wildlife and the natural environment; and

RECALLING Resolutions 11.8 Balanced Tourism (Banff, 1972), 1.32 Ecotourism and Protected Areas Conservation (Montreal, 1996) and 5.114 Promotion of sustainable tourism, rural development and the value of natural heritage (Jeju, 2012), which further illuminate the benefits of tourism but remind us of the negative consequences to people and nature because of a lack of monitoring, oversight, and management of industry practices;

The World Conservation Congress, at its session in Hawai‘i, United States of America, 1-10 September 2016:

1. REQUESTS the Director General, Commissions and Members to form a working group, in the spirit of the One Programme, to:

a. expand sustainable tourism guidelines to include explicit ecotourism best practices, including an updated IUCN definition of ecotourism, qualitative standards and indicators for culturally sensitive community engagement and welfare, environmental learning, appropriate infrastructure  and tourist behaviour to prevent anthropogenic influence on species and ecosystems, geodiversity and more;

b. [establish an IUCN-endorsed certification for [firms][sites] that abide by][consider existing national, regional and international certification schemes and how they may be strengthened to ensure the achievement of] ecotourism best practices and net positive impact (NPI) criteria for biodiversity and geodiversity as described in NPI Alliance reports;

c. create and deliver training opportunities for ecotourism governance, auditing and certification, and the implementation of best practices for ecotourism management; and

2. CALLS ON governments, parastatal organisations, developers, and tourism industry professionals to:

a. conduct transparent socio-ecological impact assessments and periodical monitoring of ecotourism operations and provide IUCN with data for research and evolution of ecotourism best practices;

b. adopt into business standards that the terms ‘ecotourism’, ‘nature-based tourism’ and ‘geotourism’ only be used and promoted when consistent with the updated IUCN definition and guidelines; and

c. proactively seek auditing and certification for ecotourism in protected areas, on private property and within landscapes of conservation value.


How is ecotourism being defined and for whom?

What are motions and how are they decided at the #IUCNCongress?

What is One Programme?

If there is auditing and certification, to what degree are processes transparent and open to the public?

Commentary (editing)

If ecotourism can gets its groove back, it will be due to people who walk the talk and then livestream, livetweet and share their walks. This is not aspirational. It’s happening all around us if we pay attention.

My opinion: the motion as is is far too conceptual to be of use to locals or visitors.

That said, we need to individually and collectively own our own definitions of ecotourism and how we apply this in our work.  We’ll be exploring quite a few of these definitions as 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.


International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Exploring Ecotourism

Tourism Definitions

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