From the archives. The following text is based upon a 2001 presentation made by Planeta.com Webhost Ron Mader at the Integrating Biodiversity and Tourism Conference sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and held in Mexico City.
Over the past decade I’ve developed some practical ideas about how to use the Internet in developing, organizing and promoting ecotourism. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how to integrate biodiversity and tourism if we don’t use the Web.
The Internet offers a multitude of resources for those working in the field of environmental tourism — park managers, tour operators and travelers. Transparency is key to cross-border information sharing. It also facilitates inclusivity and participation from various sectors.
Providing timely information across sectors and across geographical lines benefits all those who are working in the field. Improving transparency benefits us all.
In this presentation, I would like to take you on a tour of the Web. Are we taking full advantage of the medium? I don’t think so. Mastery of the Web requires as much social savvy as technical training.
Mastering the Web
Why should we use the Internet as a tool in integrating biodiversity and tourism? Let us look at how the Internet can assist ecotourism organization, development and promotion.
Organization — The Web is useful in setting up conferences such as this. Online documentation provides participants with background materials and can also be used to warn against unscrupulous practices.
Development — Ecotourism is a new field and it is definitely not static. As individual programs and services mature, the Internet is a useful tool in exchanging information around the globe. Integrating tourism and biodiversity requires dynamic evaluation.
Promotion — The Internet is indispensable for companies and provides a variety of benefits for local, national or regional campaigns.
View from the field
The following seven anecdotes provide a glimpse into how the Web is being used by those interested in environmental conservation and/or tourism.
1) Ten years ago in Ecuador as I was researching environmental policy, I was surprised to find that many of the environmental groups were using email. However, as a general rule, the contact was made between local groups and international funders. There was less communication among the groups in the country. Did email and the Web contribute to isolationism within the country?.
2) A few years ago when I was covering the United States/Mexico Borderlands, there was criticism made from NGOs and universities of how the government agencies would not share information in a timely manner. Yet the very same NGOs and universities had a poor record. When I asked one group if they could provide more timely information, they responded: “We don’t have to.”
3) In Mexico I was delighted to find an international tourism consultancy conducting workshops in the Yucatan and Baja. But when I asked the NGO for details about the guides they had trained, the response was negative. “We were contracted for training, not for promoting guides.”
4) A few months ago another group organized a private workshop on ecotourism certification. Held by “invitation only” the organizers made no prior announcements in public nor have they even put their draft online the institutional website. While their official document calls for transparency in the certification process, isn’t it odd that they provided none themselves during the creation of the guidelines?
6) Yesterday we heard about an ambitious program to develop marinas in the Sea of Cortez called “Escalera Nautica.” An official government project, curiously there is no news about the development project online the SECTUR or Fonatur websites. Fonatur does not even have its press releases online.
7) During the recent Ecotourism Certification Workshop, author Beatrice Blake suggested that guidebook writers could unite in evaluating the nature tourism lodges. If we want to integrate tourism and environmental conservation, more needs to be done with journalists and authors who regularly cover this beat.
1) To improve information transparency, begin with the “simple stuff” first. If making tourism sustainable is a matter of connecting the dots, make the link. Announce meetings, provide conclusions and participate in online forums.
2) Be honest. Call it a “lesson learned” if you must, but be clear about what does and does not work.
3) Create web links and keep them up-to-date. Institutional websites could provide and update a variety of links. For example, nowhere on Mexico’s official tourism websites is there a link to the members of the national ecotourism association, Amtave.
4) Use the web to track how environmental organizations, foundations and development banks are developing projects. Could status reports and contacts be placed online?
5) Provide reliable statistics about nature-based tourism. Many question the available data. Couldn’t we do better? After all, in scientific circles we call the lack of information a research topic.
6) Highlight funding for small businesses and individuals. This is a critical issue in the developing world where no one wants to take out a loan because of the fear of a currency devaluation that could wipe out one’s savings.
Ecotourism encourages collaboration — often among institutions and disciplines that have little experience in cross-sector alliances or timely information sharing. There may be stones in the road, but there are solutions.
Collaboration — like transparency or community participation — should not be viewed solely as an obligation. Instead, collaboration offers an opportunity to draw upon one another’s strengths.
About the workshop
The meeting was attended by the organizers and authors of selected country case studies on the integration of biodiversity into the tourism sector, Hector Ceballos; Dr. David Duthie, BPSP Programme Co-ordinator; Stephen Edwards, Manager of the Ecotourism Development Program of Conservation International; Elizabeth Halpenny, of Nature Tourism Solutions; Lynnaire Maria Sheridan, Information Specialist of The International Ecotourism Society; Oliver Hillel, Tourism Programme Coordinator of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics Production and Consumption Unit; Pam Wight of Pam Wight & Associates; Eden Shand, Protected Areas Consultant; and Jeff Violi, Ecotourism Consultant. Mexican authorities of SEMARNAT, SECTUR and CONABIO, generously hosted the International Workshop held in Mexico City in March 2001.
Elsewhere on the Web
Integrating Biodiversity into the Tourism Sector: Best Practice and Country Case Studies Case study of South Africa