Bright and dark sides of ecotourism.


Current discussion about climate change leads to extensive analysis of all areas of human’s activity. The more evidences of harmful behavior appear the more research and action is done in order to prevent irreparable changes. One of sectors of global economy is tourism which consist on complicated system of world-wide infrastructure, transport industry, millions of workers and huge investments plans all around the world. However tourism has a lot of variations. As a results, even though it has had a destructive impact on the environment, now people have a choice whether they want to continue exploiting the nature by patronizing mass tourism or on the contrary contribute to protecting the environment by promoting ecotourism. In this essay I would like to focus on idea of ecotourism as one type of tourism which has become more and more popular. In addition number of people who choose eco-holiday has been increasing. Because of spreading of this phenomenon both its benefits and negative aspects should be widely known. That is why I would present main assumptions of ecotourism and pillars on which it is based and then the disadvantages will be pointed out. In case study I would try to show how complicated and multidimensional is the issue of sustainable tourism[1] issue if tourism include almost all aspects of social life, both on micro and macro level. The former means interaction between tourists and people they visit as well as using their services, while the latter refers to global tourist system consisting of worldwide tourist agencies, transport companies, real estate agencies etc. and above all huge income each year.

This characteristic of tourism shows how significant impact it has on the environment as well as on social relations. The concept of ecotourism has been created in order to reduce negative effect of human’s activity. There is a need to look closer to environmental damages done by mass tourism and different kinds of pollution emitted during travels. According to the World Travel Organization travel industry has contribution of about five per cent to global carbon dioxide emission. It is estimated that by 2035 this emission will increase by 130 per cent (WTO, 2009:6). Those figures are few of many which show the need to redefine and reconstruct travel industry and underline the necessity for alternative tourism.

Pillars of ecotourism.

The term ecotourism has been using since 80’s and it refers to alternative kind of travelling, which basically means nature-based, environmental friendly and sustainable way of introducing tourists and letting them exploring the touristic area (Wearing and Neil,2009: 13). This is the most general definition but as long as ecotourism is developing it will be evolving and contain more elements. For this essay I would use the definition which is used by United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) and World Trade Organization (WTO). It consists of four elements: conservation of natural and cultural heritage, participation of local and indigenous people in planning and making profits from tourism, education of visitors and making them aware of need of conservation, individuals and small groups of visitors as a main target (Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism 2002:2). I would elaborate on those dimensions in order to better understand both positive and negative sides of ecotourism.

First of all, the main aim of ecotourism is conservation of nature and keeping wild places totally unaffected. Funds for those actions are gathered by organizing eco-tours and then they are invested into more effective system of protection. The most important is to let visitors experience the wildlife and make them aware of current environmental problems.

Secondly, the local or indigenous people are involved into decision processes and benefit from tourism on their home land. This is significantly different from mass tourism where profits for tourist agencies are the main aim of investments. In ecotourism those are host communities who should benefit from visitors and, as a results, their life condition would improved significantly. The reason for that is creation of alternative jobs and income opportunities, better access to decision-making level, transparency in action of the authority and private sector because of presence of NGO’s and independent academic specialists (UNESCO report 2002:8).

The next characteristic is education of visitors by presenting scientific facts and explaining how people influent the nature as well as what can be done to reduce it. Some ecotourist projects offer camps for tourists-volunteers where they help scientists with doing surveys in the field. One of the example is an organization Earthwatch that has been organizing this type of holidays. Moreover volunteers can choose issue they are interested in and participate in particular project (Zaręba 2006:53). This is an effective way to spread kind of sensitivity for environmental problems, but above all it proves that ordinary people are able to make a change with cooperation with scientists, environmentalist and people passionate about environment.

The fourth pillar of sustainable tourism is directly connected with the third one, what means that main target for ecotourism are small groups and individuals. Reason for that is reduction of destructive impact of human presence in protected area. Moreover the respect and understanding for natural, cultural and social environment is promoted (Wearing and Neil 2009: 12). The less people the more wild the place stays. On the other hand tourists are integral part of tourist industry as one cannot forget what is the idea of ecotourism – conservation trough selling the natural beauty.

Main points of critique of ecotourism.

In theory ecotourism seems to be perfect solution to problems caused by mass tourism as it reduces negative impact of people’s activity and at the same time it lets visitors experience the untouched nature. In addition host communities derive many advantages, such as means for living, protection of their habitation, stable and secure future etc. In practice implementation of those assumptions is a tough task because social reality is an area of many actors with different interests and values. What is more, even idea of ecotourism includes contradictions within itself. Jim Butcher pointed out some elements of ecotourism which may be questionable. He based his critique mainly on two documents. First one is a final report from World Ecotourism Forum and second is Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism. There appear clear definition and vision of sustainable tourism and how it should be developed . The core critique is based on relation between development and conservation. Tension is where development needs are so pressing, but where important ecosystems and area of biodiversity are also most likely to be prioritized by conservationists (Burcher 2006: 148). The main ideas of ecotourism are undermined because very often local and indigenous people are not taken into consideration when decision about introducing ecotourism into their land is made. The author observes that there are cases in which host communities do not participate at all in process of establishing protected area. Moreover they are taught why particular place needs to be preserved and they do not have a right to veto this kind of projects ( Burcher 2006: 150).

Next point of critique refers to need for development in protected areas. It should be considered that people who live in poor life conditions may want to develop in “traditional” way which means usage of technology, building infrastructure etc. The question here is weather local and indigenous people are free in making decision about place their live and lifestyle they want to continue or they are protected from above as a part of landscape.

Burcher who refers to Adams also has made a remark that environmental conservation has emerged as a central concern in western societies, and has a significant effect on development policies through the greening of aid (2006: 155). It is an interesting point because most of ecotourists are from the North and they are traveling for the holiday to protected areas. Controversial issue here is that ecotourism may be obstacle for development only because of decisions very often made on global level, by big organizations.

Case study of municipality Czorsztyn in southern Poland – the introduction.

Case study is based on my observations, talks with local people and the authority and analysis of promotional items (websites, leaflets, advertisement etc.). The main aim of this research was to show how difficult is an introduction of ecotourism into particular social reality. What is more the question that should be asked is to what extend the ideal type of ecotourism can become reality. The research for case study were inspired by website where were information about ecotourist routes in Poland and one of them was in municipality Czorsztyn. In the first part I would briefly described the location of the case study, then I would try to present different groups of interest and at the end outline main conflicts and refer that situation to the theoretical part of my essay.

Municipality Czorsztyn is set in southern part of Poland, between two mountains chains: Gorce and Pieniny. There are two national parks: Pieniński and Gorczański which are widely known from endangered species of plants and animals. In the areas there is an artificial lake and hydroelectric power station. However Czorsztyn is one of the most popular ski resort, because of big ski station which was set up in 2001 and has become the main destination of tourists. More and more tourists visit this region every year and the main concern now is how the tourist strategy should be continued. On the one side the wild, preserved nature is a hot spot, on the other everyone wants to benefits and develop through the tourism. I would like to analyze issue of tourism in Czorsztyn with focus on ecotourism.

Idea of ecotourism in the reality.

First of all, the route which is presented as one of ecotourist attraction in Poland is hardly recognized in the region. Both hotel holders as well as the community leader[2] did not know what is ecotourism, moreover they did not heard about the route in their district. This project was done and precisely described by Polish non-governmental The Civil Affairs Institute (CAI), but in practice it does not refer to any pillar of ecotourism.

Basic idea of ecotourism is to be as close as possible to nature and at the same time reduce destructive impact of visitors. In Czorsztyn district there are areas protected by national law such as national parks, reserves and nature monuments. However the fact is that they were establish on national rules of conservation of nature not on ecotourist values which assume sustainable development of particular area. It seems like sustainable tourism only uses already protected area and do not contribute to conservation.

The next element is the participation of local people in local tourism ”industry”. As the case study shows the ecotourist route was set up without any negotiation. The local authority does not know about existence of such. Moreover in the interview the community leader underlined that sometimes routes are established on local area without any permission or negotiations. In his view there must be one strategy of development, otherwise the region would develop unsustainably with damage to the nature. Second problem is that pensions and hotel owners, who I talk to, felt overlooked by the authority in decision making processes. One of them suggested making a kind of club for hotel and pension owners in order to make a pressure on the authority. Tension between people and local government is harmful for the whole region as there is not one vision of tourism and each side take actions on its own.

One of the way of conservation is education. In ecotourist route in Czorsztyn which was presented on the website there were places with educational values, for instance Museum of Pieniński National Park. Even though for ordinary tourists who visit this area is hard to gain any knowledge because the strategy of development is mostly oriented at entertainment (Strategy of Development of municipality Czorsztyn, 2009). My main concern is the bi-direction of development in this region. While one side empathizes conservation and protection of wildlife and on the trend to other focus on mass tourism. I tried to visualize main groups of interest and conflicts between them. This graph shows different expectations about development of particular region.

Graph 1. Conflict of interests in municipality Czorsztyn.


The idea of ecotourism contains all elements of sustainable development: protection of the environment, participation of local people, financial profits and cooperation of people from the South and the North (in some cases). However when theory comes into reality the idea change dramatically. It becomes difficult to introduce ecotourism in the area were what people really need is development. On the other hand ecotourism can be the alternative to “traditional” development that basically means industrialization. The protected area can benefits from the educational and esthetical aspects of its unchanged character. After analysis of particular case the main conclusion is that participation of local people and consensus about strategy of development is the a priority. The decision of conservation cannot be imposed from above because people would not follow the rules of ecotourism. The reason for that is their feeling that they cannot govern their own land. What concerns me the most is how to convince people that they can benefit from ecotourism. They can make profits and concurrently contribute to the nature conservation only when ecotourism will not be “invention” from outside but rather it becomes the need of a whole community.



Butcher, J., 2006. The United Nations International Year of Ecotourism: a critical analysis of development implications, Progress in Development Studies 2 (6): 146-156, available from

Fennell, D.,A., 2008. Ecotourism, New York: Routledge, pp.1-47.

Neil, J., Wearing, S., 2009. “Departure: surveying the ground” in Ecotourism: Impact, Potentials and Possibilities, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 2-14.

Zaręba, D., 2006. Ekoturystyka (Ecotourism), Warsaw: Polskie Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.


United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2002. Ecotourism and Sustainable Development in Biosphere Reserves: Experiences and Prospects, available from

World Tourism Organization, 2009. From Davos to Copenhagen and beyond: advancing tourism’s response to climate change, available from

World Tourism Organization, 2002. World Ecotourism Summit – Final Report , available from


Strategy of Development of municipality Czorsztyn, 2009, available on CD, access permitted by the community leader Waldemar Wojtaszek.

World Ecotourism Summit, 2002. Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism, available from


Ecotourism in Poland, (access 02/01/2010)

The International Ecotourism Society: Learning center. (accessed 02/01/2010)

[1] In this work I would use term sustainable tourism alternatively with ecotourism.

[2] I have done three interviews with owners of guest house, with community leader and owner of the ski station, interviews were done in January 2009.