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In the recent past eco-tourism became more and more attractive for tourists worldwide. This paper gives a definition of eco-tourism and is searching to answer the question why it is not promoted as a major tourism sector of the United Kingdom (UK). The position of eco-tourism and its noticeable lack of promotion within the UK are examined, while the role and potential of ecotourism in the UK is discussed.
Definition of ecotourism
Based on Fennell (2008), Ecotourism has various meanings but he suggested that five individual objectives have to be set to create ecotourism:
Minimal impact management/small scale
Nature-based product/low impact
Contribution to community
Contribution to conservation
Mc Laren (2003: 91) defined ecotourism as
“… a participatory experience in the natural environment. At its best, ecotravel promotes environmental conservation, international understanding and co-operation, political and economic empowerment of local populations, and cultural preservation. When ecotravel fulfils its mission, it not only has a minimal impact, but the local environment and community actually benefit from the experience and even own or control it. At its worst, ecotravel is environmentally destructive, economically exploitive, culturally insensitive, ‘greenwashed’ travel. “
Due to the development of ecotourism, a variety of new destinations have been encountered which have been previously dismissed as isolated and unreachable for tourists. Some examples of this trend could be tropical rainforests, oceans and even desert environments, where the majority are situated in the less-developed areas on the globe. Most of these new destinations are poor and underdeveloped.
Timothy and Boyd (2003) explain that ecotourism and heritage tourism overlap, where ecotourism encompasses the natural and protected types of landscape, which include eco-tourists visiting heritage attractions. This could be for instance state houses, castles and national parks .
The problem with the term ecotourism is, that any tourist-operator can label and promote its product as ecotourism, because there are disappointingly no restriction that rule the use of it. The term ecotourism may be used inappropriate out of ignorance of the principles and ideals that the term carries, but misuse on purpose as a marketing tool also appears to be very common (Black and Crabtree 2007). Another reference from book
Forms of ecotourism in the UK
The UK has four national tourist agencies, the English Tourism Council, the National Ireland Tourist Board, VisitScotland and the Wales Tourism Board. These promote each country to international and domestic tourists. The Green Tourism Business Scheme in the UK accredits different places for tourists which are trying to trim down their environmental impact. Every business is getting tested in a 2-year period to ensure they fulfil the criteria (i.e. support of public transport, use of local produce,…). (Green Tourism 2009).
Ecourism is already getting promoted within the UK. An example could be the “ECO-Guide 2010” of the Tourist Information which promotes to people who love to walk in nature how they can reduce their environmental impact. It offers different walks such as some in the Lake District and where you can discover the hill carvings in Oxfordshire.
Hall et al (2007) describes the beach as vital national asset for the international and domestic tourism in the UK, and a new Marine and Coastal Access Bill from 2009 made by the UK government was created to secure a long-distance route around the coast of England. The aim was to provide public access for coastal walking and other recreational activities, as well as designate marine conservation zones to protect them from damaging activities (direct.gov.uk).
. Various different eco-tourism operators promote destinations which are fulfilling -or partially fulfill the components for ecotourism.
Patterson (2007) relates that the growth of the ecotourism market has stimulated the development of eco-operators. An example of this is the growth of seal-watching at spots on the UK coastline.
The Wales Tourism Board is offering through operators wildlife adventure boat trips to experience the landscape scenery and see seabirds, seals, whales and dolphins. These are stating on their website that they are acutely aware of their responsibility to the unique eco-system within which they operate and follow the codes of conduct to provide a low impact, educative (visitpembrokeshire.com).
The difficulties to generate Ecotourism in UK
The problems ecotourism operators are facing when they are looking for a possible destination is that there are not a lot of natural relatively untouched areas left within the UK. Consequently it can’t actually satisfy the criteria of low impact and small scale orthodox tourism. There are approximately 62 million people living in the UK and the population density amounts to 659,6 people per square mile , which is the 51st highest rate in the world. Furthermore, the Office for national Statistics predicts that the UK population will increase by 4,3 million by 2018. If that trend continues, in 2033 there will be 71,6million people living in the UK (statistics.gov.uk).
Beeton (1998) identified that the main ecotourist group are the 20-40 year old, followed by a second large group, 55 years and older. She indicates that people of this age are seeking for different types of holiday. In addition to that she states that ecotourists tend to be higher educated than other tourists and having a higher incomes, which is generally linked with that. Due to the fact they have a higher income, they have therefore the money to spend it on more expensive and exotic ecotours abroad. In destinations abroad they can full fill their desire to see nature and wildlife which they can’t see in the UK.
Trends and Potential in the UK
Responsible travel has been receiving quite strong coverage in UK travel media. Ecotourism is rising as a considerable market trend in the UK, as wider consumer market trends towards lifestyle marketing and ethical consumption spread to tourism. and places this in the context of campaigns by Voluntary Service Overseas and Tearfund. Between 1999 and 2001 the percentage of UK holidaymakers aspiring to be willing to pay more for an ethical holiday increased by 7 per cent from 45 per cent to 52 per cent (sagepub.com ). There have been many developments in the UK with regard to the adoption of sustainable practices and techniques amongst tourism providers.
Case Study: Paradise Wildlife Park, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire
Paradise park is a Zoo located in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and has a passion for wildlife conservation and is involved in various breeding programmes for endangered species. They even managed to rear two White Lion Cubs, of these just a few ones are existing in the world. The Park has recently opened a new Discovery Centre which is committed to educate visitors in their new classrooms. The Park is making constant efforts to become more green and sustainable, it introduced recycling of rubbish throughout the park. Paradise Park became the number one visitor attraction in Hertfordshire if looked at number of visitors, and is providing not just Jobs inside the park, it also contributes to the local community by bringing tourists into the city. (pwpark.com)
Ecotourism has the characteristics of sustainability, conservation and appreciation of the attraction being visited. Due to the named reasons completely orthodox ecotourism in the UK is unlikely, but if the more passive objectives like natural environment were removed, there is a great potential to generate more ecotourism. These may satisfy all the criteria’s of other active components (i.e. environmental education, contribution to conservation), even it is a more artificial type of ecotourism. There are many ecotourism activities taking place in the UK but it doesn’t get promoted as a major market because not that many ecotourism destinations are existing. The trends reveal that the customer demand is changing to more sustainable types of holiday which offers a great potential to eco-tourist operators to promote and sell more of their tours.
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