Report – TO3025 – Ecotourism and Sustainable Development

TO3025, 2000-08-23

Can Economic Mechanisms by Ecotourism Contribute to Sustainable Development of Natural Resources?


Tourism has the potential to provide funds for conservation, to set sustainable user limits, to preserve a nation’s historical and cultural heritage and to protect natural attractions. It also has the potential to destroy. If tourism is not planned and managed in the right way it can destroy vegetation, create overcrowding which leads to erosion and other impacts including pollution of rivers and beaches and litter, for example, at trekking areas (Goeldner, 2000).

This mega-industry now exceeds three trillion US dollars annual turnover and is expected to reach almost eight trillion US dollars by 2005. It is estimated that about 204 million people or almost a quarter of the working population of the world are employed directly or indirectly by the tourism industry (WTO, 1993). Ecotourism is still the most rapidly expanding sector of the tourism industry, with annual growth at 10 to 15 per cent, compared to mass tourism which is growing at 4 per cent (Mieczkowski, 1995).

Ecotourism refers to nature-based tourists doing non-degrading, non-damaging travel to a undisturbed nature site for the recreational and educational value obtained from closeness with some aspect of the natural environment (Steele, 1995; Valentine, 1992).

Tourism needs to be considered not only from economic perspective, but also an ecological or conservation perspective, to insure that the over exploitation does not “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”. This is necessary in views of prevailing which place economic models increasingly emphasis on private rather than public expenditure for conservation.

This paper will examine these perspectives and discuss how ecotourism can contribute to sustainable development and management of natural resources and give a greater appreciation of, and need to conserve natural environment and their fauna.

Economic mechanisms

Governments, and other organizations, have generally two choices to control access to national parks and other protected areas. Restrict the open access with quantity control (command and control) or price control (market based controls). Quantity controls are more common than price controls. While these quantity restrictions always will be needed, there are a number of strong reasons why price controls would become more widely spread (Steele, 1995). For example money from fees provides revenue which can be used to increase the carrying capacity of the park, thus generate employment and profits in the local community. In places like Singapore, has introduced national tourism taxes (4%), which applies to tourist hotel rooms. In the Galapagos a variable tariff has been put forward because the prices often penalizes the poorer local tourists, the locals pay 6$ while foreigners pay 40$ (Steele, 1995).

In recent times governments have tended to reduce support for funding of public infrastructure and reduced involvement in day to day management of conservation related institutions e.g. national parks. It has therefore been necessary to investigate alternative forms of “ownership” and sources of income.

To be able to manage a natural and/or cultural resource site the responsibility has to be given to some agency. This ownership issue can be dealt with by;

Giving the control to the government, often in the form of state owned national parks. State managed parks tend to have very low entry fees thus it is not surprising that state-run national parks generally work with a loss and must therefore get governmental subsidies. This in turn gives the governments an incentive of further under fund the national parks so they make further losses. Thus a vicious circle is created. This tends to lead to environmental damage through poor management (Steele, 1995).

Control can also be given to the local community. Local community control has many examples that work; CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe, LIRDP in Zambia, the Aboriginal Bungle Bungle area in Western Australia (Barbier & Swanson, 1992). The greatest advantage of local community control is that it ensures local longtime involvement where residents as stakeholders will ensure management to keep the area pristine and conspicuous.

It can be given to some ‘private’ organization. The private ecotourism sites tend to have higher fees due to their economic independence. There are therefore higher incentives for investment in management and thus providing for conservation of more conspicuous and pristine environments which serve as an incentive for the tourists that are willing to pay more to go to conspicuous sites (Steele, 1995).

All three alternatives have advantages and disadvantages and have to be chosen while considering social, cultural and economic circumstances. The most common way of reducing open access ecotourism is by making the state responsible, often by giving the site a National Park status (Steele, 1995).

What is User Pays?

User-pays systems are systems that have been installed by conservation agencies all over Australia (and numerous site around the world) to collect fees for entry to recreational facilities, commercial activities, protected areas, camping and other facilities and services. User-pays systems in Australia are not applicable to conservation of natural and cultural resources though they are generally regarded as a community service obligation (ANZECC, 2000).

Arguments for user fees:

There are many papers discussing this very topic so it will just be briefly mentioned here, because it is of importance.

Some argue that when using other services like health, postal, transportation and housing services they have to pay, then why do they not have to pay when using recreational services? The fees can limit the use to the most committed users, encourage or discourage the flow of tourists at particular times (reduce peak flows) or in particular areas. Another argument for user fees is the contact with the users and by this help management to provide useful hints for planning of journeys and other helpful updated information for the tourists. The fees not only reduce the number of visitors but also the presence of vandals and other criminals (Aukerman, 1987).

Arguments against user fees:

Many simply think that it is unfair to charge recreationists twice, first through taxation and second through user fees. Social cohesion, health, crime reduction and self-governance are promoted by recreation. Recreation and recreation resources are not only good for the individuals but for the society as a whole and should therefore be subsidized by society and government in general. Governments subsidize other services – why not recreation? Lastly, more signs, restrictions, policies, rules, etc. will clash with the ideal of freedom during leisure time (Aukerman, 1987).

The wanted outcomes of a user-pays system in Australia have been cost-effectiveness, improved park management, better visitor facilities and services and positive public attitudes towards the agency and protected area management (ANZECC, 2000).

The agencies have felt that cost effectiveness was difficult to evaluate, as most States had no accurate estimation of their actual costs. To make it easier to recognize the costs of revenue collection of a user-pays system a suggested practice was to start an accounting system dealing just with this kind of problem.

Improved conservation management was achieved through better visitor management and awareness, and through better directing of agency funds into resource management as visitor services become more self-supporting. Where user-pays revenue was retained by parks services, client services and facilities were greatly improved. Local retention of revenue was most commonly mentioned as the key factor in creating a positive cycle from revenue to better services and facilities to positive public attitude and back to increased revenue (ANZECC, 2000).

If national parks are able to earn an income by entrance fees, camping fees and sales of concessions to businesses such as shops and providers of accommodation within the parks, administrators and government officials generally take a more favorable approach to conserving these when the management costs are drained from the public (Tisdell, 1995).

By the mid-1980’s the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) realized that the existing resources were inadequate to keep pace with increasing use which had and was expected to grow by 10% annually. The cost of management also increased with the increase in tourists going to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). GBRMPA had two options regarding the funding to keep up with the increasing pressure within the Marine Park.

These were: increases in Government appropriations, or introduce a fee direct from the users of the Marine Park. On the 1st July 1993 the Government introduced a fee for the commercial users of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park called Environment Management Charge (EMC). The EMC equated to about AU$1 per person per day for most operations. In the first three years of EMC, the GBRMPA collected about AU$4.5 million which was used by GBRMPA for research, education and management related to the GBR (Trinder, 1996).

Today (Aug. 2000) 25% of the revenue is set aside for research at CRC, the rest (75%) goes to GBRMPA’s own research, education and management of the marine park (GBRMPA official 2000, GBRMPA, Townsville pers. comm.)

A excellent example of tourism user fees’ capacity for conservation and sustainable development is the gorilla tourism in a semi-privatized government national park in Uganda, where in 1995 it raised US$600.000 in park fees from 3300 visitors. The outcome of the first three years, the park was able to make its own recurrent costs and to contribute to budgets of other national parks in Uganda (Milner-Gulland & Mace, 1998).

By helping the local communities to manage protected areas, tourism can provide financial incentives and justification to support conservation of, for example, the gorillas and their species rich habitats (Milner-Gulland & Mace, 1998).

Another good example of how economic mechanisms can support sustainable development is how the national parks and protected areas are managed in South Africa where some parks are largely self-financing. Park revenue is generated from

Entrance fees.

Accommodation and shops within the park

Sale of game meat (obtained from necessary culling of animals, such as elephants and cape buffalo, to maintain numbers of the park’s carrying capacity) (Tisdell, 1995).

Before the term ecotourism had been widely accepted and known, Lindberg (1991) stated that nature tourism could support conservation and development. However, there were some problems or shortcomings for nature tourism to be able to support conservation. Firstly, many (if not most) areas of ecological importance were too inaccessible or unappealing for tourists. Secondly, unrestricted use of natural areas by tourists can lead to overuse if not managed in the right way. However, overuse and stagnation is unlikely if the numbers are kept low (Lindberg, 1991), The open access that is a general character of nature tourism or ecotourism must be changed to avoid overuse and stagnation. This can be done by introducing user fees and other applicable fees to keep numbers down in certain areas. The down side of this is that it could easily become elitist i.e. only open for the people that can afford the high prices. A solution to this problem is to raise the price for the foreign tourists but keep it low for the residents. Lindberg (1991) argued that the average foreign visitor is wealthier than the average resident, plus the foreigner has a higher motivation to see and pay for what s/he has traveled a long distance to see.

Extreme examples of adventurers who pay huge amounts to get permits to be able to fulfill their adventures. Mountain climbers and mountaineers wanting to climb K2 and Mt Everest, in the Himalayas, easily spend more than US$100 000 for a package with guide and permit, Similar situation for adventurers wanting to go to the North and South pole.

How can ecotourism contribute to sustainable development?

Ecotourism is defined as “traveling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas which this person will eventually convert him or her into conservation” (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1987).

From an ecological point of view, ecotourism is environmentally sound not only from a theoretical point of view but also practically. Donations from ecotourism operators are part of the philosophy of ecotourism where operators have a great record of financing environmental conservation projects and/or organizations like World Wildlife Fund (Mieczkowski, 1995).

To make national parks and protected areas more suitable for tourists, selective culling of wildlife or habitat modification to change the composition of species has been undertaken. This increases the demand from tourists to visit such areas. Although this culling provides an economic benefit, one could argue whether it has a positive or negative influence on conservation (Tisdell, 1995). Some culling, in the form of trophy hunting, could be viewed as ecotourism though management of the African megafauna is vital and necessary and therefore ecotourism could be applied to this activity (Group discussion in “Ecotourism and Wildlife Tourism Management” James Cook University, Qld). However, what trophy hunting represents can arguably be considered socially and morally inappropriate.

An example of how ecotourism can benefit conservation is demonstrated by the use of funds from visitors fees to the Otago Peninsula, near Dunedin, New Zealand, to maintain a previously threatened local population of Royal albatross, Diomedea epomophora (Tisdell, 1995).

Some publicly owned ecological reserves are under funded so that they are not able to perform important nature conservation work. This problem exists, for example, in Costa Rica although an ecotourism company called Horizontes helps to pay the salaries of the rangers in the park because of the inability of the government to do so (Mieczkowski, 1995).

Another way ecotourism has financed conservation by user fees is where an ecotour operator offered a forest landowner in Indonesia some money for using his forest in exchange for him to bring small bird watching expeditions to view a species of the bird-of-paradise that was threatened by extinction. The landowner accepted the offer even though he had been offered a large sum from a logging company. The resource, i.e. the forest and its fauna, was thus saved for future generations (Mieczkowski, 1995).

Ecotourism also can support conservation goals by giving visitors a high quality and educative experience. This requires well trained, enthusiastic guides who can generate greater interest in visitors and therefore a higher probability of donations, return visits and recommendations to others to also visit (Lindberg, 1991).


It is obvious that people will think it is absurd to pay for something that has been free previously. The best that can be hoped is that the users can be convinced, or come to an understanding, of the need for user pays schemes to support and maintain natural resources (Trinder, 1996).

If conservation is to be benefited by ecotourism it will be because it provides incentives to protect habitats from more destructive forms of use (Bolton, 1997). The only difference between wildlife use, as a concept of sustainability, and ecotourism is the fact of the tourist experience. If the tourists are to support wildlife and other natural resources there has to be something the tourists can spend their money on; but this must be something that does not spoil the quality of the experience that the tourists have paid for (Bolton, 1997).

If ecotourism is to support conservation and natural resource management, then it needs to be well regulated to avoid the problems inherent in mass tourism, e.g., site congestion, and over commercialization which detract from the enjoyment of the experience and which economically becomes self defeating as the attraction to visit fades (Lindberg, 1991).

Some cultures and ecosystems are very fragile and should not be exploited with large group visits or perhaps not at all, an example is Ladakh, Himalayas, which was a unique cultural site that was ravaged by a sudden tourist invasion (Lindberg, 1991).

Ecotourism is neither a simple concept nor a straightforward phenomenon to implement and evaluate. Ecotourism should be viewed as more than tourism to natural areas. It should be regarded as a combination of resource conservation and local development through tourism. This means that the tourism industry has to ensure that the goals of tourism development do not interfere with animal conservation and protection of natural areas (Ross et al., 1999).


Aukerman, R. (1987) User Pays for Recreational Resources. Colorado State University Research Services, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, (2000) Benchmarking And Best Practice Program: User-Pays Revenue.

Barbier, E. & Swanson, T. (1992) Economics for the Wilds: wildlife, wildlands, diversity and development. Earthscan, London.

Bolton M. (1997) Conservation and the Use of Wildlife Resources. University Press, Cambridge.

Ceballos-Lascurain, (1987) LOOK UP THIS REFERENCE!!!

Goeldner, C.R. (2000) Tourism: principles, practices, philosophises, 8ed. Chichester: Wiley, New York. Chap. 17.

Lindberg, K. (1991) Policies for maximizing nature tourism’s ecological and economic benefits. World Resource Institute, U.S.A.

Mieczkowski, Z. (1995) Environmental Issues of Tourism and Recreation. University Press of America, Lanham.

Milner-Gulland, E.J. and Mace, R. (1998) Conservation of Biological Resources. Blackwell Sciences, Oxford. Ch. 12.

Ross S & Wall G. (1999) Ecotourism: towards congruence between theory and practice. Tourism management vol. 20, pp.123-132.

Steele, P. (1995) Ecotourism: An Economic Analysis. Economics for the Environment Consultancy (EFTEC Ltd), London.

Tisdell C.A. (1995) Keynote Address – Does the Economic Use of Wildlife Favor Conservation and Sustainability? Conservation Through Sustainable Use of Wildlife, Center for Conservation Biology, The University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Trinder, C. (1996) User Pays – The Great Barrier Reef Experience. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Canberra.

Valentine, P.S. (1991) Nature-based tourism: a review of prospects and problems. Pp. 475-485 in (Miller, M.L. & Auyong, J. eds.) Proceedings of the 1990 Congress on Coastal and Marine Tourism, Vols I and II. May 1990, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

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