A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.– Moslih eddin saadi
A sustainable environment is a necessity. While wondering about the economic benefits that might arise from tourism, it is equally important to understand that biodiversity also needs to be preserved. Promotion of economic, social and environmental benefits of preserving the biodiversity might encourage every community to be part of the climate change mitigation process. This can be achieved with ecotourism – a sustainable concept interspersed among the environment, tourism, social and economics sectors.
Preservation of biodiversity
It would be wise to start by explaining the concepts individually. Biodiversity is an umbrella term for all the living things that exist on the surface of the earth and below water. Creating a link between human interaction with the environment and the diversity of species that exist in the world, it is still fairly arduous to quantify the amount of contribution a diverse range of species have on the environment. Despite the multidimensionality of the quantification of biodiversity, the estimates of the total number of species on Earth range from 5 million to 30 million. Among the global species richness, only 1.7-2 million species have been formally represented which is only a small portion of total species richness. So, it is crucial to preserve biodiversity not only to balance the ecology but also to ensure sustainable food production which in turn brings to us healthy nutrients and sustainable income for farmers.
Ecotourism as a Solution
As the term explains itself, it is a sustainable method of incorporating tourism with the environment by involving the local community. It can be confined to 3 main categories: environmental conservation, meaningful participation of the community and sustainable source of income. The conventional term ‘tourism’ contradicts the term ecotourism since it promotes travel which generates income regardless of the fact that the resources are being depleted and waste is produced in an unsustainable manner which, knowingly or unknowingly, harms the biodiversity. For example, Cox’s Bazar, the longest beach in the world, is now in poor shape due to a large number of tourists it had last year. Excessive crowd, poor infrastructures and poor waste management is endangering the local ecology as well as associated species. Due to the recent pandemic, the decline in tourist arrivals is also putting many at the risk of losing their jobs. So, ecotourism is not only a conceptual foundation to build sustainability but a tool that a social enterprise should embrace for the betterment of the community of a developing country.
Social Enterprises on Ecotourism
Instead of wasting papers preparing reports on how a company is protecting the environment, a smart response could be to start a social enterprise to promote ecotourism. Local Alike is one of the social enterprises that aim to bring collaboration between corporations and local stakeholders in order to preserve the environment, culture and local livelihoods. It now works with 50 communities across Thailand to promote sustainable tourism. Replicating a social enterprise model like Local Alike can actually promote the engagement of stakeholders which can promote collaboration and empower the communities.
Policymakers Can Also Throw Themselves Into It!
The Government of India has taken a remarkable step in addressing the issue of ecotourism by introducing various initiatives in India. A great initiative in this direction is the Sikkim Biodiversity and Ecotourism Project which develops collaboration between local organizations and communities with the ambition for conservation and income generation. Since the forest cover in Sikkim did not satisfy the expected target, the Department of Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management (DFEWM) decided to introduce the project which reduced the poverty rate of Sikkim from 36.6% to 19.2% within 4-5 years. In order to preserve the natural environment, various policies can be implemented to ensure that ecotourism is promoted in a particular country. One of them could be that giving a special reduction in the rate of tax for social enterprises who are promoting ecotourism. With reduced taxes, the enterprise can focus more on promoting tourism at a low cost and effective engagement among the relevant stakeholders. While regulatory measures can be taken, persuasive measures can also be taken by the policymakers to raise awareness among the local communities about the importance of engaging with the tourists. For example, raising awareness about the best practices in waste disposal, minimizing carbon footprint and ensuring sustainability.
Sustainability is the only feasible way for the future. Tourism, the sector providing employment to the largest number of people in the world, must rise to the challenge that the post COVID “new normal” brings and integrate it as an indispensable part of sustainability.
This will go a long in ensuring a sustained livelihood for millions while simultaneously ensuring conservation of the planet.
Article by Jafreen Alamgir, Team ulaunch