Concept Of Eco Tourism And Sustainability In Tourism Tourism Essay

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The tourism can be regarded as one of the largest industries of the world. In the last few decades under the influence of sustainable development, a lot of discussion has been initiated on the concepts of sustainability in tourism. Apparently, the term ecotourism and sustainability are looked upon as positive and fruitful ideas with so many externalities linked to it. But the detailed analysis of the underpinnings and undertones reveal strong and wrested motives behind it. Furthermore, its application across the board is being considered as unfair and an attempt to promote the ideas of a school of thought mainly linked with elite western culture. The aim of this paper is to carry out an in-depth analysis of the sustainability and ecotourism concepts with a view to highlight the undercurrents related to the same. The discussion in this paper is mainly based on three articles written by renowned academics on this subject.   

Saarinen (2006) in the her article 'Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies'  published in  Annals of Tourism Research highlights that, during last few decades the increasing impacts of tourism on environmental, social, cultural, economic, and political issues in the destination countries has received a lot of attention all over the world resulting into enhanced discussion on the concept of sustainability . Although, according to researchers, it was negative effects of practices during the 60s, which gave birth to the thoughts of sustainability to eradicate those effects, however, by the early 90s; this issue was largely replaced by the theme of sustainable tourism in broader perspective. Now days the concept of sustainability is under criticism with special focus on its practices, and its usability, however, discourses on nature, analysis of the ideology, with a special focus on practical management of the strategic objective to ' limit the growth' provide food for thought for further research. The demand for more environmental friendly practices in tourism grew in context of several processes in Western societies; this in turn introduced the idea of sustainability in the field of tourism. Initially, this concept was related to sustainable development only. The Brundtland Commission's report 'Our Common Future' published in 1987 amply highlights the idea of sustainability to form the basis for academic discourses on the subject. Report defines sustainable development as a 'process that meets the needs of present generations without endangering the ability of future ones to meet their own needs'.  Sustainability is based on three interrelated elements: the ecological, socio cultural, and economic. Furthermore, three fundamental principles: futurity, equity, and holism are also linked to the same. Increasing information and the growing concerns over the impacts of tourism on environment resulted into emphasis and need for sustainability. Despite being global in magnitude the impacts were analysed with reference to destinations only.  The growing size of visitors was regarded as problematic for the environment, and also for the future of the industry. This in turn resulted into creation of markets with more consciousness towards environment thus enhancing the needs of sustainability in tourism. Due to difference of opinion on the definition, the 'sustainable tourism' can be understood as an ideology or a point of view.

However, according to Swarbrooke (1999:13) it can be the 'tourism which is economically viable but does not destroy the resources on which the future of tourism will depend, notably the physical environment and the social fabric of the host community'. Contrarily, some researchers use the term 'sustainable development in tourism' (Butler 1999), 'which involves the ethical aspects of the ideology of sustainability and does not necessarily refer to a tourism-centric approach in development discussions and practices in which the evaluation is focused on the needs of the industry' (Burns 1999). The concept of sustainability has been viewed as positive as well as negative. Positive in a sense that it caters for the nature and future generations but negative in the sense that it the destinations are being considered as global assets. Hence, guaranteeing the rights of access to everyone in the world. This has resulted in a conceptual confusion, criticism, and a need to understand how the limits of growth could be defined and set in tourism. The understanding of carrying capacity has a key position with regard to sustainable tourism. Carrying capacity has been generally defined as the maximum number of people who can use a site without any unacceptable alteration in the physical environment and without any unacceptable decline in the quality of the experience gained by tourists (Mathieson and Wall 1982:21). However, the carrying capacity of a destination encompasses so many dimensions including physical, economic, perceptual, social, ecological, and political one, with each having different implications.  In addition to facts related to infrastructure related issues it is also a related to human values and (changing) perceptions concerning the resource, indicators, criteria, and impacts.

Traditions of Sustainability

Traditions of the limits of growth can be classified into three categories.  Resource based Traditions; an earliest approach which relates to the carrying capacity model and works out a magical number, which specifies the carrying capacity of the destination. It is believed that it cannot be exceeded without serious negative impacts on the resources available.  Activity based Traditions: being more industrially oriented one, it focuses on the needs of tourism as an economic activity, without any consideration of ethical factors. Community based Traditions highlights that sustainability is or can be streamlined through a process of negotiation to indicate that the limits of growth are socially laid out. 

Evaluation of the Concept of Sustainability

The concept and idea of sustainability is a challenging vista to explore in the field of tourism. All the approaches defining the limits of growth and sustainability will have advantages as well as disadvantages once utilized practically. The resource based tradition has lost its utility and seems to be an obsolete one. Contrarily the activity based approach demonstrates high level of recognition and acceptability yet the cultural and environmental implications related to it create so many ambiguities, resultantly, the principles of sustainable development onto tourism seems to a highly complex affair to handle.   It is important to note that tourism is like any other industry, thus it can make a positive contribution to the environment and to communities and vice versa. It is believed that Sustainability should primarily be connected with the needs of people rather than an industry and the use of natural and cultural resources should be safeguarded for human needs in future. It is important to understand that sustainability is not a one-way street in the international-domestic nexus. The limits of growth cannot be laid down primarily on either local or global perspectives. Sustainability is a joint matter of both local and global concerns. In this context, the objectives of academic studies on the limits of growth may be seen critically.  

Ecotourism as a Western Concept

Fennell, (2005) in his article 'The Ecotourism Concept and Tourism Conservation', published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, highlight that the hard core western concept of ecotourism was validated by UNO by designation of 2002 as the year of ecotourism. This initiative of UNO was viewed by other nations with great concern and it was believed that the move is intended to perceive people everywhere with the same cultural, economic and political understanding. Detailed inquiry into the motives reveals that the concept of ecotourism was based on the cultural hegemonic designs of the western powers for the achievement of political and economic gains. A concept of 'triplet marriage' raised by Euro-US paradigms contains issues of sustainability, development and globalisation. This forms the basis for engineered decision making to obtain political and economic objectives. The issue can be understood by evaluating the facts about authorities and decision makers on sustainability and ecotourism. The influential global bodies like WTO etc make important policies and decisions; by persuading the minds of masses   around the world through the influential tools of media, to meet the wrested interests of the large business tycoons in this sector. Important aspects in this regard include the certification, accreditation and other related issues, thus, demonstrating inherent and structural inequalities at play. It is surprising to reflect that, till early 1990s, tourism was seen as an inappropriate avenue for donor finance. However, with growing recognition of the conservation with undertones of western envisaged ecotourism attracted the attention of international funding organisations. In 1992, the International Resources Group prepared a report for USAID on ecotourism as a viable alternative for the sustainable management of natural resources in Africa. In essence, this funding initiative is regarded as an attempt to mould the thinking and thoughts of third world nations according to western state of mind. Furthermore, the funding is done through international organisations to ensure the wrested agenda of ecotourism.  For instance funding of Indus basin project in Pakistan and seven projects in Russia can be regarded as such like examples. The agenda of tourism supported by NGOs is in accordance with the views of their western supporters. For example the ideology of Conservation International if viewed with their intentions to create free market economic conditions for conservation related activities can provide an insight of their wrested interests. Another perspective about ecotourism regards it as an activity related to extremely elite class. Most of the benefits of ecotourism have been lost in the non productive activities and the actual effected people could not receive the desired benefits. Another important aspect of advocated ecotourism is its non compatibility with the local culture of the destinations. It is considered as that the luxurious living style of the elite tourists has nothing to do with poor residents of the area and their culture. In certain areas an effort is in hand to develop, practice and advocate Islamic philosophy of environmental protection in accordance with the injunctions of 'sharia'. From the range of definitions of ecotourism it is clear that it is a multidimensional term in aspects of operational definitions, subject to varying meanings that are, however, almost without exception, rooted in western ideology. It is, therefore, at the grassroots level that debate should take place. In fact there is no universal or unique understanding of development or the environment, and to appreciate that each culture articulates and deploys a particular view of nature and how it uses it. If we uncritically accept western-constructed ecotourism as the ultimate one it will create so many complications. So, the ecotourism should be understood as fundamentally contested ideology in order to listen to different opinions. 

The Ecotourium Concept and Tourism-Conservation Symbiosis

Cater (2006) in his article 'Ecotourism as a Western Construct' published in Journal of Ecotourism highlights that the prevailing ecotourism has two limiting factors. Firstly, the number of products that do not fulfil the criterion of core ecotourism are deliberately marketed as such thus overshadowing the recognized products and secondly, the weaknesses of the legitimate products to support the model of sustainability. Same can be achieved by establishing a network of ecotouriums.  

Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism

The conceptual framework of ecotourism is based on three core criteria including an emphasis on nature-based attractions, learning opportunities, and management practices that adhere to the principles of ecological, socio cultural and economic sustainability. Ecotourism is basically nature-based in terms of its attractions and products, with related cultural influences, historic and archaeological components. Similarly, Ecotourism strengthens the learning opportunities through understanding products and their maintenance of conditions. More so, ecotourism should be managed in a manner that it is supportive to sustainability Model. These problems can be addressed through implementation of a recognised accreditation protocol, Prompt irradiation of negative effects caused by activities like wildlife observation operation. Whereas, a pertinent dimension of sustainability comprises the extent to which ecotourism helps to improve the environmental conditions. Some of the explanations of ecotourism assist to avoid the worse situation to happen. Initial, definitions of ecotourism focused on the natural environment, while recent one supports the social, cultural and economic sustainability as the ultimate aim. Similarly, the scope of sustainability can be local, regional or global. More so, there is a discourse that whether the sustainability should have its scope limited to natural environment or should also encompass human population. It is suggested that socio cultural sustainability can be assured by the support of the local people with the qualities of being economically and financially sustainable. Academics argue that the focus of sustainability can either be elemental or comprehensive; this leads to the creation of minimalist and comprehensive models. Furthermore soft and hard model of sustainability with respect to the level of the industry and an idea of alternative tourism is getting a lot of attention. It is believed that minimalist model is more popular but a new concept of the ecotouriums is being developed. It can be, defined as a protected area where hard and soft ecotourists, and the tourism industry more broadly, are mobilised in concert with relevant local communities, government and NGOs to become more effective guardians and enhancers of these entities through activities that are consistent with comprehensive ecotourism principles, thereby enabling symbiosis between tourism and conservation.' The concept is linked with creation of global network to ensure sustainability to make ecotourism a real asset. In this connection the complexity of the issues create serious implications in achieving linearity and coherence across the globe. In adopting a comprehensive ecotourism, across the hard to soft spectrum, it is necessary to realise its potential to act as a credible and effective source of ecological, economic and socio cultural sustainability.


The following are some similarities in both types of tourism. (Ecotourism and Sustainable tourism)

Both types of tourism worked for the protection of environment to some extend.

The divination of both types of tourism has been criticized by different authors.

The focus of both of types of tourism is to develop this industry.

Both ecotourism and sustainable tourism worked under some rules and regulation for the attainment of certain goals and objectives.

To some extend both types of tourism try to provide help to the local population. In spite of these similarities there is some other as well such as protecting the culture heritage, awareness, boosting the economy etc.


The detailed discussion on the concepts of sustainability and ecotourism has helped to develop conceptual understandings on the meanings, scope, implications and especially the undertones of these terms. It is evident that the term ecotourism and sustainability in tourism are being understood by two different perspectives. One perspective suggests it to be an extremely positive approach linked with conservation of natural heritage for future generations whereas the other approach declares it to be a west centric ideology advocated with specific purposes to highlight and implement the western cultural ethics and traditions across the globe. More so, initially these concepts were initially perceived as the one linked to environment only but now the scope has grown beyond those limits to encompass cultural, social and economical aspects. Thus, a clear difference between the perspectives of west and rest of the world has emerged. The West is being perceived as 'engineering' the policy making on tourism. In view of above, a wider and a multi dimensional concept of ecotouriums has been proposed to encompass all aspects.


Cater, E. (2006) 'Ecotourism as a Western Construct', Journal of Ecotourism, 5, 1&2, pp. 23-39

Fennell, D. (2005) 'The Ecotourism Concept and Tourism Conservation', Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 13, 4, pp. 373-389

Saarinen, J. (2006) 'Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies', Annals of Tourism Research, 33, 4, pp.1121-1140.