I Nengah Subadra, S.S., M.Par.
(Lecturer at Triatma Jaya Tourism Institute, Dalung-Bali
The International Ecotourism Society states that: Ecotourism is a responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local. From the definition, it is evidence that the main object of ecotourism is natural areas. The development and exploitation of ecotourism should conserve or preserve the local ecology and its habitants and generate welfare to the present and future generations of the host communities.
Ecotourism is a fast-growing sector of tourism industry which emphasizes ecology or environmental attractions. Ecotourism invites and takes tourists to remote and natural areas for the purpose of having specific experience. It is also well-known as “back to the nature tourism” (McIntosh, et al. 1984 : 177). Ecotourism offers an outstanding potency to generate state revenue, private sector investment, employment, and other social and economic benefits. Ecotourism also provides incentive for the conservation and sustainable management of public and private lands.
Ecotourism is one of the applications of ecological conservation and development in which its development and preservation provides potential economic benefits to the host communities. (Stem, et all. 2003 : 322) There should be an integrated and mutual relationship between the host communities and the preserved area. It means that the host communities may not exploit the preserved area liberally and may not be consumptive to it. The exploitation made should be appropriately and accordingly done and arises a modest negative impact. Meanwhile this concept is very difficult to be implemented in ecotourism since practically ecotourism arises numerous negative impacts to both host communities and ecology such as; habitat demolition, path erosion and social and cultural illness.
Ironically, those negative impacts are caused by the success of the ecotourism itself. When ecotourism is developing, the number of visiting guests will increase automatically and not all of those guests concern about ecology. For those who does not concern about ecology will disturb and exploit the ecology.
More recently, ecotourism is defined as natural-based tourism that involves interpretation of the natural and cultural environment and ecologically sustainable management of the natural areas. More specific, Hall (2003) states that:
Ecotourism is seen as ecologically and socially responsible, and as fostering environmental appreciation and awareness. It is based on the enjoyment of nature with minimal environmental impacts. The education element of ecotourism, which enhances understanding of natural environment and ecological processes, distinguishes it from adventure travel and sight seeing.
From the statement above, it can be described that the development of ecotourism should be addressed to keep the harmony relation between the local environment and social life. Therefore, they should respect and appreciate each other. The host communities can exploit and enjoy the environment as long as it does not arise negative impacts for the environment. To achieve the harmony relationship between the environment and the host communities, the government should be active to give education about positive and negative impacts of ecotourism to the host communities and related ecotourism enterprises through meeting, dialogue and speech. And ecotourism must be strictly distinguished from adventure activities or sightseeing because ecotourism performs the natural objects and their habitats which may not be disturbed by the visitors.
There are two main areas of ecotourism such as; natural environmental-based ecotourism and man-made-based ecotourism. Natural environmental-based ecotourism uses natural resources as the object of the tourism such as; lakes, rivers, rainforest, native animals etc. Meanwhile man-made-based ecotourism uses man-made resources such as; parks, zoo, etc. from these two types, the guests usually prefer to visit the natural-based ecotourism because it performs natural beauty and habitats of the nature (Jackson, 1989 : 129-142).
In Bali, ecotourism which is grown in Tamblingan Lake is one of the natural-based eco tourisms. It uses natural resources which available around the area such as; forest, temples, lake, vegetation plantations. Another example for ecotourism development is mangrove forest ecotourism which is developed in Pemogan Village, South Denpasar District, Denpasar City belongs to one of the man-made-based eco tourisms. It is developed and managed by the Mangrove Information Center (MIC) where its projects funded by the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA). Some habitats are deliberately grown such as; mangrove trees, crabs, lizard, fishes, birds, etc. Primarily, the project was aimed at conserving the mangrove forest which has been unwisely used by the local community for certain purposes such as; fishpond, shop-house, and reclamation.
The development of ecotourism is not always successful, however it sometimes fails to achieve the authentic goal of ecotourism because it causes many negative impacts such as; solid waste generation, habitant disturbance and forest degradation which is caused by the path erosion. Therefore, ecotourism may not be overdeveloped and visited by many tourists at the same time. Moreover it sometimes fails to give economic benefits because the profit achieved is not accepted by the local communities (McIntosh, et al. 1984 : 383).
As one of the alternative tourism programs, ecotourism may not be developed to be mass tourism. As explained above that when it is visited by many guests, ecotourism will arise various negative impacts. The management of enterprises which develop ecotourism should be able to arrange and manage the number of visitors well. For example, the object of ecotourism may just be visited by 100 guests per day and their visit must be divided into ten rounds. It means that each round consists of ten guests. It helps the eco tour guide to control his guests and give definite and clear information to the guests and the guest will be satisfied automatically due to get an interesting tour and complete information about the object.
Ecotourism provides compromised economic benefits to the host communities in the form of employments, infrastructure improvements, and local business motivations. The host communities can be employed as staff of the ecotourism enterprises such as; operation staff, ticketing attendant, tour guide, security, etc. Due to the importance of the ecotourism enterprises, the local infrastructures such as; road, pavement, water and power systems will be automatically improved and well maintained. The host communities are also able to run certain kinds of supporting tourism businesses such as; accommodations, restaurants, café shops, souvenir shops, etc. Ecotourism development also supports the preserved areas financially through the entrance fee paid by the tourists.
Costa Rica is one of the countries in the world which grows tourism industries. Tourism and ecotourism are the main source of the national revenue for the last two decades (WTO, 2002). Corcovado National Park and Piedras Blancas National Park are the two objects of ecotourism which are located in isolated places and difficult accessibility. Corcovado National Park is the largest remnant of tropical forest and has wide range of habitats inside. It attracts the guests who are interested in having more experience in the rainforest. Blancas National Park is located in the marine territory which creates biological corridor with Corcovado National Park. These two parks involve the local people as conservation guards. Compare with the development of ecotourism in Bali particularly in Tamblingan Lake in Buleleng Regency, the preserved or conserved area is not quite well maintained. The path is very massy and some of the soil is washed away. However, the sacred objects (temples) which are available inside are well kept by the Desa Adat (customary village). It means that the host communities also play many roles in its development. Some of the villagers are employed as conservation guards, tour guides, parking attendants and some of them have chances to run their own businesses such as opening restaurants, shops, etc. This involvement is very benefit for the host communities.
The involvement of the host communities in Costa Rica is able to improve their lives. Moreover the host communities are suggested to involve more than now by interacting directly to the guests who visit the objects. For example by raising up and performing the local culture and social history to the guests. And the local communities are also suggested to run businesses which provide local products at reasonable prices.
To achieve the goal of ecotourism, the reformation of policies is highly required. For examples; prohibition of cutting the preserved trees for the household needs and prohibition of hunting the preserved habitats. Those are great threat to the protected environment. The policies made should concern about protection of environmental degradations.
There are ten indicators which can be used to evaluate the level of degradation of environment which is grown as ecotourism such as; garbage, weeds, disease in the environment, impact of fire from non-natural events, visitor caused erosion, vegetation trampling, hill demolition, landform erosion, non-purpose built tracks caused by off road vehicles and unlawful resident (Hall, 2003 : 384-385)
As defined in the beginning paragraph that ecotourism is a tourism which involves or uses ecology as the objects. There are three possible relationships between tourism and ecology which may occur with respect to the development eco tourism such as; conflict, coexistence and symbiosis (Hall, 2003 : 296-297). Tourism and ecology are in conflict when the running and development of tourism has disadvantageous impacts to the ecology.
Tourism and ecological conservation may exist in a situation in which the tourism and ecological conservation have a little contact. It means that there are just a little developments and administrative obstacles between the tourism and ecology. And Tourism and ecological conservation can be mutually supportive and beneficial if the tourism and ecological conservation are well organized to ensure that the tourists get benefit from their visits and the ecology can be well developed too. This relationship has economic advantages and contributes to the quality of lives of the host communities. From the three relationships above, symbiosis relationship is the most appropriate development for ecotourism.
Awareness of the relationship between tourism and the ecology occurs in both demand (tourists’ needs) and supply (ecology and its habitats) components of the tourism products. Therefore, ecotourism refers to two different dimensions of tourism; first, ecotourism is a form of special interest tourism and refers to specific market segment which concerns and is based on green and nature-based tourism. Second, ecotourism is a form of tourism development which is regarded to keep friendly relationship between the ecology and its habitats and tourism. Practically, it is extremely difficult to apply the concept above. Meanwhile, tourism enterprises always propagandize ecotourism as good, potential and desirable development of tourism.
More particular, Hall (2003) states that:”Ecotourism is a big business. It can provide foreign exchange and economic reward for the preservation of natural system and wildlife. But ecotourism also threatens to destroy the resources”.
The statement above is absolutely right. If ecotourism is grown and developed well, it will generate many benefits which are able to improve the social, economic and nature lives. Meanwhile, if tourism is developed inappropriately, it will arise many problems for the social life more particular the nature life. And even it can destroy the nature and social lives. For example; land slides, flood, erosion etc.
It is important for us to analyze and distinguish between perception and the actual impacts of the development of ecotourism. For example, “a green and clean ecology”, many people will think and believe that the ecology is healthy. However, the reality of the ecology may be very different. For example the forest conservation in Buyan Lake in Buleleng Regency, it looks very clean and green. In fact, some of the native habitats such as; antelope, birds, cocks and hens have been disappeared because they are freely taken and exploited by the local people. Some of the preserved areas have been reallocated to be camping areas and the path which is made for trekking route is passed by cars or off road cars. It surely disturbs the native habitats because of the noise and pollutant.