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“…soft ecotourism often occurs on a large scale within certain accessible areas leading to the observation that ecotourism can and often does occur as a form of mass tourism…’ (Weaver and Lawton, 200: 362). Critically evaluate, using examples, the social, economic and environmental impacts of mass tourism on ecotourism sites.
From my studies and research in this subject area of geography it is evident that there is a link and indeed a relationship between ecotourism and mass tourism. In order to understand this relationship however we must take into account what exactly tourism means, and subsequently what is meant by ecotourism and mass tourism. What essentially is tourism? Undoubtedly there are many varying definitions to describe tourism but essentially tourism “. . . is the temporary movement of people to destinations outside their normal places of work and residence, the activities undertaken during their stay in those destinations, and the facilities created to cater to their needs” (Alister Mathieson and Geoffrey Wall 1982, p.1) Tourism is unquestionably a leisure activity and there are many various forms of tourism including;
- Cultural tourism.
- Sex tourism.
- Adventure tourism.
- Event tourism.
The tourism sector has experienced significant increase in later years due to higher incomes and greater transport amenities and accessibility. According to the Central Statistics Office Ireland website, www.cso.ie the number of trips by Irish residents on domestic travel has increased from 7,001 in 2004 to 8,340 in 2009.  The increase or enhancement of tourism within certain areas has varying impacts, both positive and negative, on the economic, social and environmental aspects.
Ecotourism or ecological tourism essentially refers to travel to an area possessing natural, physical or cultural beauty for example rivers, beaches, mountains and wildlife ecosystems. The main purpose associated with this form of tourism is to maintain, protect and respect the value of the area. According to Mike J. Stabler et al, ecotourism refers to “. . . a sustainable, non-invasive form of nature-based tourism that focuses primarily on learning about nature first-hand and which is ethically managed to be low impact, non-consumptive and locally orientated (control, benefits and scale). It typically occurs in natural areas, and should contribute to the conservation of such areas.” (Mike J. Stabler et al, 2010, p.360). Ecotourism incorporates a wide range of activities from visits to natural ecosystems for example the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, physical activities such as mountain climbing and visits to see wildlife animals for example gorillas which I will discuss later in this essay. There are two main types of ecotourism; soft ecotourism and hard ecotourism. Soft ecotourism is generally the more popular form of ecotourism and usually involves short-term experiences which are nature led by a tour guide and in which the individual returns to a facilitated area. Due to the popularity of soft ecotourism it is more likely that mass tourism could develop as a result. Hard tourism on the other hand refers to the individual involving themselves in an intense experience devoid of amenities like accommodation, restaurants and shops for example The Hollies Centre in County Cork.
Mass tourism can be quite difficult to determine as there are no insights as to how many tourists would classify as mass tourism. However it fundamentally refers to large scale tourism where there is a great or large amount of tourists in a given area at any one time. Mass tourism has come to the fore due to higher incomes and accessibility as previously mentioned and in addition to these the introduction of package deals has also played a vital part in this form of tourism. It is essential to note that there is a relationship between these two forms of tourism and one can influence the other hugely. Throughout this essay I will discuss the impacts, socially, economically and environmentally of mass tourism on ecotourism sites with reference to various examples.
By controlling and managing potential mass tourism on an ecotourism site the negative social and environmental impacts are significantly reduced, ensuring the overall preservation and conservation of the site. Rwanda is a small country which is located in central Africa and is famous for its beautiful geographical scenery such as the scenic beaches at Lake Kivu and its vast series of mountains. In addition to the beautiful scenery, it also boasts an abundance of wildlife including various species of birds and the rare mountain gorillas. (Figure 1) Rwanda is known worldwide for these mountain gorillas and this undoubtedly is a main attraction for tourists. According to the Rwanda Tourism website, www.rwandatourism.com, the number of visitors in Rwanda increased from 826,374 in 2007 to approximately one million in 2008.  In addition to this gorilla tourism in Rwanda has grown significantly and reached a peak in 2008 when 17,000 tourists were recorded visiting the Volcanoes National Park alone (Neilsen, H. and Spenceley, A. 2010, p.2.), with peak season being the months of July and August. Although the increase in Rwanda’s tourists would not be classified as mass tourism on a global scale, it is essential to note that this increase has had significant impacts in Rwanda. The Volcanoes National Park is located in northern Rwanda and lies on the border of Virunga National Park in the Congo and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The Volcanoes National Park enables tourists to experience the extraordinary gorillas up close. The level of tourism certainly has impacts on the ecotourism site socially, economically and environmentally.
The local community in Rwanda has experienced both positive and negative impacts as a result of the increase in tourism. In relation to social impacts Rwanda has undoubtedly benefited. The income received in the country as a direct result of tourists in the park has meant that the local communities have socially grown. Under the ORTNP and with the support of the government, a tourism revenue scheme was initiated in 2005, meaning that 5% of revenue from park fees goes towards supporting local communities and projects. The following are examples of projects undertaken in Rwanda as a result of the revenue scheme;
Schools; the construction of ten schools within the locality has dramatically cut down on travel time for locals to school. This enables pupils to focus on their studies, thus improving the quality of education in the area.
Water Tanks; over 5,000 families within the locality have benefited from the construction of water tanks which provide 20,000 litres of water per person per day.
(Neilsen, H. and Spenceley, A. 2010, p.11)
The Rwandan community possesses a rich cultural society which is present in their arts and crafts for example woven baskets, pottery and painting. Tourist expenditure on such cultural crafts shows interest in local traditions and rituals and ensures the native culture survives amongst the varying cultures of tourists. Environmental impacts are a considerably important feature when referring to gorilla tourism in Rwanda. Due to the fact that these mountain gorillas are rare and endangered species conservation and protection of these animals is a priority. One can argue that tourism itself can have a detrimental impact on the animals and this undoubtedly is a fair argument. Gorilla tourism can and does present a threat to gorilla conservation as tourists can put stress and disturbance upon the gorillas. This can adversely affect the behaviour and health of the gorillas. (Neilsen, H. and Spenceley, A. 2010, p.16) Evidentially these factors could be responsible for a decline in population size. However, as people in Rwanda have realised the potential danger, they are now managing mass tourism in the following ways in order to conserve the eco-site;
Anyone who wishes to take part and experience closer contact with the gorilla species must purchase a permit which is expensive and limited. Tourists are willing to pay high prices for these permits and this essentially means that tourists are aware of and are supporting the ecotourism code of minimising ecological impacts.
In addition to the high cost of permits and as briefly mentioned earlier, the revenue scheme means that 5% of this money is fundamentally re-invested back into the conservation and protection of the national parks.
A set of rules and regulations have been introduced which prohibit risk to the gorillas. These rules are enforced by staff employed within the park. The following are some examples of rules and regulations enforced;
Tourists have to keep a distance of 7 meters between themselves and gorillas.
There is a daily limit of one group of tourists per group of gorillas, a limit to the number of tourists within that group and they are required to remain together.
Visits are to have a limited time span of one hour.
Minimum age requirement of 15.
(Neilsen, H. and Spenceley, A. 2010, p.4)
If we are to imagine this ecotourism site without any means of managing tourist numbers what would be the impacts environmentally? Undoubtedly the gorilla species in the Volcano National Park would become extinct. The population of the gorilla has already decreased in recent years and there is no question that extensive large scale tourism (larger than what Rwanda is currently experiencing) would decrease it even more. In terms of economic impacts with reference to tourism in Rwanda we can see that tourism is acting as an economic asset to the local communities. Employment in gorilla tourism is very significant and at least 180 employment opportunities have been created within the park including tour guides, anti-poaching teams and gorilla groups’ trackers. (Neilsen, H. and Spenceley, A. 2010, p.12)
Benidorm is a coastal town situated in the province of Alicante in Spain. It is home to beautiful sandy beaches which attract numerous tourists every year. Originally prior to the 1960’s it was a small village where farming and fishing were the main sources of income. During this time period Benidorm experienced little or no tourism.
Since then however Benidorm has developed tremendously and attracts as much as ten million tourists per year. As a result of this dramatic change the lives of the local people and indeed the landscape have changed dramatically. Tourists are attracted to Benidorm due to easy accessibility, cheap package deals, abundance of accommodation, the beautiful sandy beaches, nightlife and golf courses. The town of Benidorm developed rapidly in order to cater for this large scale tourism and this development has had social, economic and environmental impacts as a result. The construction of tourism related infrastructure has negative environmental impacts in the vicinity of Benidorm. Over consumption, over development, pollution and artificial reconstruction are amongst these negative impacts. Many high rise hotels were constructed in order to cater and maximise tourism within the town which immediately diminishes the beauty of the town and decreases attractiveness.
Pollution is an ongoing problem in the area. Tourism leads to extreme litter and extreme pressure on sewerage systems. Cheaper package deals have led to an increased level of air travel, thus increasing the levels of nitrous oxide, hydrocarbon and lead in the air. Over consumption of natural resources for example water is another negative impact of tourism in Benidorm in the past with tourists exploiting the resource in hotels and swimming pools. Reconstruction of beaches, and production of golf courses decreases originality, portrays a modern town and drains images of the picturesque fishing village that was once there. (Figure 2) According to an article on the BBC news website however, www.bbc.co.uk/news/ , Benidorm is now highlighted as the new face of ecotourism. The author describes the recent environmental positive impacts which were acknowledged and have occurred as a result of the initial negative impacts of mass tourism. In one hotel the lights immediately turn off upon vacating the room and many of the taps are foot-pump operated in order to save water which in turn tackles the overconsumption of the natural resource. In addition low energy street lighting is used. In relation to the economy of Benidorm there are both positive and negative impacts. The tourism industry is worth an impressive amount to the economy and is a vital asset in terms of job creation. The restaurants, pubs, hotels and shops employ a large amount of people from Benidorm and the surrounding areas which would perhaps be unemployed if it was not for high tourism levels. The majority of food is locally sourced which essentially means that money earned by local businesses is essentially going back into the local economy. However tourism in this town has negative impacts also. Many of the hotels in Benidorm are chain hotels and are foreign owned. This acts as a drain on the local economy as money leaves the country. The cost of living increased as a result of mass tourism with prices of houses and goods and services putting pressure on the locals. Socially, the huge numbers of tourists visiting Benidorm has resulted in a wide range of cultures which can have has both positive and negative effects. The wide multicultural society as a result of mass tourism indeed positive yet this can have strongly influence negative impacts. It can simply drown out the Spanish culture of the town and with such a diversity of cultures anti-social behaviour has occurred and remains a possibility when misunderstandings or insulting of different cultures occurs. In addition to this mass tourism can have adverse impacts socially for the locals. Mass tourism has led to a rise in inappropriate behaviour with tourists engaging in such activities as drug use and excessive drinking. Tourism also interrupts local access to amenities such as shops, roads, public parks and sporting facilities as well as public transport.
From the examples I have discussed throughout this essay it is evident that there is indeed a relationship between the two forms of tourism- ecotourism and mass tourism. In relation to my two examples, gorilla tourism in Rwanda, Africa and tourism in Benidorm, Spain, it is essential to note that I took two different approaches in terms of discussing them. When referring to ecotourism in Africa, I discussed the impacts that managing tourist numbers has had on the ecotourism site. It is evident from this example that ensuring the impacts of tourism numbers on this destination are monitored and managed is vital for sustainable tourism industry. Without the management gorilla numbers would decrease and would eventually become extinct. Therefore the ecotourism site would not be viewed as a must-go destination and tourism would possibly cease. With specific reference to the tourist destination of Benidorm in Spain, I discussed the impacts which mass tourism had initially created on the area. In contrast to this, in more recent years I have given an insight to how Benidorm has evolved from an area of mass tourism to an area portraying potential eco-touristic qualities. Tourism management in a destination that is in line with local communities preserves and enhances the environment and protects its wildlife, while providing a more authentic tourist experience and eliminating the negative social and environmental impacts of mass tourism on ecotourism site.
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