A student at the University of North Carolina interviewed me some questions as part of her  environmental studies class, studying ecotourism.

I hope every one has something to say about the issues raised in this topic. I invite you to follow through and to throw your  comments.

Question 1. In the aspect of cultural exchange, it is dynamic and unstoppable, do you find this to be detrimental to ecotourist locations and their peoples and if so, what are some ways to combat this?

Answer. Yes to some extent, if it is not managed. Depends on how one interprets and applies the term ‘exchange’.  The goal and the process also matter.

If it implies replacing ones ethos with another, or blending it to the extent of losing the authenticity or the intrinsic values of an indigenous culture, then we can say it is detrimental.

Though I would say that culture (without the add-on “exchange’), itself is dynamic and subject to change with the changing world and environment, I am against an intrusion on a society’s way of life especially in the name of cultural exchange.

Tourism has to be carefully operated in a way to reduce the negative impacts it can cause on indigenous cultures. In my view, the term cultural exchange should be more of learning or educating oneself than schooling others (the communities in subject).

Respect, understanding, accepting differences play a big role in this regard.

2. Do you find that ecotourism is a beneficial and sustainable practice in the long term given an ever globalizing population? In this question, I am addressing specifically the youth of these ecotourist communities.

Answer. Since we can’t stop globalization neither tourism nor traveling, we are left with to be on the defensive…minimizing damages which I think ecotourism is more about.

Minimizing damages or negative impacts is beneficial. Will it be sustainable? I doubt especially in light of the current outweighing economic, social, environmental, and political factors.

3. The mission of ecotourism is to teach and spread environmentally sustainable practices. Often the people who travel in an eco-friendly manner are those who are already conscious of their environmental impact; given this, can you evaluate or give your opinion on the efficacy of this part of ecotourism’s mission?

Answer. Well, two things worry me. One is the ever increasing trend of using such jargons, like eco…sustainable…responsible…environmental friendly… etc etc might serve to cover-up surfacing issues that need to be addressed in real and honest terms.

The other thing is over-promoting the concept which might end up in an overflow of ‘eco tourism, eco tourists, eco activities, eco hotels, etc etc to a particular destination’.  I am afraid that ‘too much eco friendly interventions might end up being unfriendly’. May be I am too skeptic.

4. Eco-Tourism is a complex concept. What specifically distinguishes Eco-Tourism from simply vacationing in a remote location and experiencing the surrounding environment?

Answer. Yes it is a complex concept. I don’t have a short answer for it. But what distinguishes the eco tourist from the typical “tourist”, the former considers the place as if he/she owns it, like his/her home.

He behaves as if he will be back to that place, wants to see that wildlife again, wants to see those people unchanged except for good.  The former saves while the later consumes.

5. What are the most crucial components associated with classifying an activity as being a part of Eco-Tourism?

Answer. An activity should be measured in terms of the immediate, direct, and indirect consequences it can bring on the environment or communities. I don’t think any activity would have a zero effect otherwise no activity.

But it should be about lessening the effects and can be measured by the same. We can check the carbon footprint, the nature of travel, camping, vehicles carbon release, no. of travelers etc.

6. Economic benefits associated with eco-tourism often times can lead to an over emphasis on exploiting the environment for monetary profits.

What measures should be implemented to create a more harmonious balance between the consumer-centered focus of eco-tourism and the actual conservation of the environment?

Answer. Educating people, creating awareness, informing them, using a motto “conserve to consume”

7. Eco-Tourism is ideal among small, local cultures; however, eco-tourism has recently become a growing phenomenon. How has rapid urbanization and industrialization impacted eco-tourism?

Answer. I think they are challenges and remain the same in the future. Growing need and greed might slow down the efforts and changes we would like to see.

8. How have population pressures affected human spaces of living, as well as the living spaces of various animal species, fauna, and flora? What are the environmental impacts?

Answer. In my country, Ethiopia, once parks endowed with a rich wildlife, fauna, vegetations are now almost deserted because of humans inhabiting them, using the fields for grazing their cattle etc. So the environmental impact? Totally negative, very sad.

9. Is it a comfortable decision for a country to rely on the income of the ecotourism industry? Does it need secondary monetary support?

Answer. I don’t have any objection with relying on the ecotourism industry. It should also have a secondary support etc. It is not the industry the problem, people are the problem. Wrong perceptions are the problem. You don’t want to kill the chicken that lays the gold egg.

Responsible tourism would have a responsible and sustainable economic impact and it would protect and sustain itself.

10. Ecotourism has positive impacts, but with these pros come negative effects. Do the benefits outweigh the detriments of ecotourism? Would you recommend this idea to developing countries

Answer. Nothing wrong with the idea. It helps and I recommend it. Ecotourism is about protecting the environment or indigenous culture etc. But the problem is who is protecting ecotourism? How do we protect it from being abused? That should be answered.

11. Governments are entrusted with administering and enforcing environmental protection, but sometimes fail to do so due to lack of commitment or ability to manage ecotourism sites. How can these regulations be fixed? How can governments reduce this issue?

Answer. Political will and economic capacity play a huge role in this. Above all engaging the public at large and respective communities in particular in the decision makings and implementation process would help.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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