Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sustainable Tourism Chapter 11 Relational Summary

Sustainable Tourism Chapter 11 Relational Summary
Voice over image from textbook:
Upon completion of this chapter, the reader should be able to:
_ explain the three criteria that constitute an ecotourism product and show how the
variance within these criteria gives rise to comprehensive and minimalist interpretations
of ecotourism
_ differentiate the concepts of hard and soft ecotourism and demonstrate how this
typology relates to the comprehensive/minimalist distinction and affects estimates
of the magnitude of the ecotourism sector
_ assess the strengths and weaknesses of specialized components within the ecotourism
_ describe the spatial distribution of ecotourism both globally and within protected
areas as well as modified spaces
_ assess the potential environmental costs and benefits of ecotourism and discuss
how these vary within hard and soft ecotourism
_ explain the extent to which quality control and credibility within ecotourism are being
positively and negatively affected by certification initiatives such as Australia’s
EcoCertification Programme and
_ critically assess the importance of a comprehensive ecotourism model that incorporates
soft as well as hard ecotourism dimensions.

And now, the host of our show, Everest B. Green:

Hello, I’m your host Everest B. Green, and welcome to today’s edition of Sustainable Tourism – what does it mean … to YOU.  We have as our guest online  today, Professor T.H. Culhane from the Patel College of Sustainability and co-founding director of the NGO “Solar CITIES” which is introducing food-waste-to-fuel-and-fertilizer biodigesters to the ecotourism industry.  Welcome Dr. Culhane.
Thankyou, its great to be here.
I understand that this week’s chapter topic, “Ecotourism: the conscience of sustainable tourism” is something you’ve been grappling with that has been weighing on your conscience for quite some time…”
Yes, well I got my start in eco-tourism activities as a 13 year old attending clown college in Venice Florida when I fell in love with the coastal environment and become a passionate snorkeler.  This turned into a lifelong passion for scuba diving when I got my PADI certification at the age of 15 and made my first of several  trips to Bermuda for my checkout dives.  By  17 I was working as a voluntourist at the Forfar Field Station in a remote backstage part of Andros Island in the Bahamas, spending a month exploring tropical marine ecosystems and their association with tropical rainforest and mangrove communities, doing underwater photography, interacting with local Bahamian sponge fishing communities and assisting scientists in doing biodiversity surveys.   The net effect on me was that I became hooked on what Weaver describes as the 3 core areas of ecotourism:
1) ”nature-based attractions”, like the spectacular coral reefs at the tongue of the ocean in the Bahamas and the rainforest fringed blue hole ecosystems where salt water and freshwater meet in the center of the island
2) “educational interactions with these attractions” which were achieved  through the local experts in botany and marine ecosystems and the professors from Florida Insitute of Technology who awarded the three credits I earned for the experience
3)  “management practices that make every reasonable effort to achieve environmentally and socioculturally sustainable outcomes”, which, in our case, involved constant interaction with the local fishing population who were learning with us how to sustainably harvest the sponges that were part of their income, as well as local reef fish and land crabs and conch which they sold to us and cooked for us.

As a kid who had just finished his junior year in high school, I spent a lot of my time with the teenage boys from the community who taught me a lot about their culture and really enjoyed learning with me what the course I was on was teaching.
That summer I became what Weaver talks about on page 205 when he says,” Ecotourists, then,
are regarded in this model as active agents of positive environmental and social change.”

Yes, and you’ve talked in previous lectures about  the long term impact that had on you and how you went on to make Ecotourism activities an essential part of your education and your career. We’ve spoken of your tree planting activities and permaculture and renewable energy teaching  and social and environmental justice activities around the world, from your time at the  Eco-Escuela in Guatemala and in the favelas of Brazil, of your living in Eco-Villages in LA and Europe to your treks in Nepal and activities in Africa and Indonesia and Egypt and Iraq and Palestine, participating in both comprehensive and minimalist ideal types of tourism, each with its different expectations and outcomes, and the parallel typologies of hard and soft ecotourism activities based  more on market and experience characteristics, … seems you have a very broad approach to Ecotourism…

Yes, well, I tend to take a bird’s eye view of these things and my lifetime of participation in these activities, having the privilege – and it really is a privilege, to have seen so much of the world, at  so many levels, from 5 star hotels and exclusive ecolodges like the Great Plains conservation lodges in Kenya and Botswana to pup tents in snowy mountain passes and goat herders huts and Bedouin tents in deserts is that we need the post-modern lens of both-and approaches to get away from the binary modernist impasses  of the “either-or” , black and white, you’re either for us or against us binary mentality that creates such conflicts.  As we talked about in the last chapter summary, we are much more nuanced today, replacing the blunt instrument of carrying capacity, for example, with the concept of “Limits to Acceptable Change”.  So I seek ways to understand, evaluate and promote both the hard and the soft side  of the Ecotourism Spectrum shown in Figure 11.1 of Weaver’s book, and everything in-between, believing that even though I am certainly a die-hard hard ecotourist who goes active and deep spending much of my career focusing mainly on broad sector outcomes and embracing philosophies that are holistic and taking the  elemental approach, working on enhancement or status quo sustainability, exploring global or local spatial scopes, etc.),  we can have sustainable Mass  Tourism that takes has a specialized or diversionary focus, accommodates large groups, multi-purpose trips, shorter trips etc., leveraging its economies of scale to bring about positive change.  What I eschew are what Weaver calls on page 193 “nature-based tourism products such as beach resorts, where the natural environment provides a convenient setting for the fulfilment of hedonistic or similar impulses”.  You rarely catch me doing anything like that unless I’m trying to accommodate family or friends and they all know I rather disdain such tourist activities as not just a waste of time, but ultimately destructive.  My whole world basically revolves around what Weaver calls the “Ecotourium”.

Yes,,let’s take a look at what Weaver says about the “Ecotourium” concept he has set forth on page 204, which he says is an improvement even on the Comprehensive model. Weaver says the industry and sector is seeking to
“operationalize the modified comprehensive ecotourism model through the concept of the ecotourium, which they define as a protected area where all types of ecotourist are mobilized in conjunction with the tourism industry, local communities, government and NGOs to participate in activities consistent with the
principles of comprehensive ecotourism that protect and enhance these places, thereby generating symbiosis between tourism and conservation. Ecotourists, then, are regarded in this model as active agents of positive environmental and social change. Relevant activities can include tree-planting (suitable in modified and degraded areas), removal of invasive exotic species, trail maintenance, assistance
with scientific research (e.g. plant identification surveys), participation in community based projects and donations. Crucial to the concept is the formation of an accredited global network of such areas in which all types of environments and ecosystems are represented and results from the activities are shared.”
This does seem to describe what you have been doing throughout your life.  Can you comment on this?

Well sure, a good example will be the trip I made to Swaziland two summers ago, in 2014, to visit Sakhiwe and Bonkhe, two high school students who we had given a science in action prize at the Google Science Fair for their work on low cost hydroponics. We also had a finalist in the Science Fair, Rohit, who had designed a more efficient toilet, and his brother Amit, who travelled from India to Africa to join me. We spent the week staying in tents at a youth hostel and integrated the Indian boys toilet, my biodigester and the Swazi boys hydroponics growing system, building at both the hostel for ecotourists and at Sahkhiwe’s grandfather’s farm.  So we got to live social sustainability, experience and contribute to green lodging and work in rural Africa on a farm.  The last day we then were taken by the locals to the national park on safari, so we got to see crocodiles and zebra and giraffes and hippos.  So a project like this proved the ecotourium model is really robust… we not only had the high school and college students, a professor like me, and the kids grandparents and relatives involved in putting best practice into action, but one of the cooks in the youth hostel asked if her 11 year old son could stay with us and be an apprentice, so we had younger kids too.  And on top of it, the lodge owner and his staff, who was looking for a way up the ante in terms of their sustainability practices, became so enthusiastic that they not only adopted the technologies we brought to them, but provided their vehicles and staff to help us implement them in the local community. Having built these bonds, and even gotten press for it in Scientific American, the next step is that we actually are forming this accredited global network Weaver talks about.  The key is forming these social networks of active agents. I believe in Weavers model because I am part of the process. This January I am going to the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan with students and volunteers to provide sanitation relief. We will also help create a permanent permaculture training ground by the Israeli border. And of course we will contextualize it with special side trips to the Dead Sea and the hot springs and the ancient ruins of Petra, but the touristic cultural and natural activities will then have more meaning, contextualized within the framework of “ how do we keep our seas from dying, how might we harness the hot springs for clean renewable energy, and most importantly how do we keep our own civilization from collapsing and being devoured by the desert sands…?”

Pretty heady stuff.  Do we have any evidence that this sort of experience has more general appeal? And what makes you think these goals are even achievable?

TH: Well, none of us can say if we won’t end up doing too little too late, but I stay in the game because whether or not we “save the world” or not, it really is a whole lot more fun than hedonistic tourism, and I’m not the only person to feel that way.  Perhaps it is because I work with students, from middle school through college and graduate school, but I think what we are seeing is a new more engaged form of both education and activism.  Weaver lays out the agenda on page 193 in section  11.2.2 where he says,

Motivations of education and learning about the natural environment distinguish ecotourism from other nature-based tourism products such as beach resorts, where the natural environment provides a convenient setting for the fulfilment of hedonistic or similar impulses (Weaver, 2001b).” 
We covered that earlier, and you know how I feel about that. I’m reminded of Francis Bacon’s 1627 Eutopian novel “A New Atlantis” in which he insisted that it was our educational systems that were making a mess of society by divorcing learning from civic duty and applied theory.  In his utopia he has a resident of the New Atlantis explain to a tourist visiting the eutopia from England that  the mere experience of touring the city or going out in the countryside was in itself a meaningful education. Just by going about sightseeing you were guaranteed to learn philosophy, the arts and science and math. Weaver paints such a picture of the emerging Ecotourium.  He continues by saying,
“ As with nature-based attractions, educational opportunities and experiences can be ranged along a continuum. At one pole, these attempt to foster deep understanding through interpretation that conveys
complex messages and seeks to transform the attitudes and behaviour of the audience along a more environmentalist-oriented trajectory (see Section 10.4.2). This model, which is evident in the whale watching tours at Kaikoura, New Zealand (Curtin, 2003), aligns with the holistic approach to nature-based attractions described above.
At the other pole, shallow understanding is conveyed through relatively simple and basic messages that focus on charismatic megafauna. In either case, ecotourism product managers should provide appropriate interpretation, or at least maintain conditions (e.g. peacefulness, non-interference) that allow ecotourists to pursue a more self-directed or contemplative path of learning.” 

So what we are seeing emerging is this world in which the mere creation of that Baconian New Atlantis in the tourist destination may be enough to ignite in both the tourist, the tour operator and the local backstage community what Bacon thought of as a natural human tendency toward good citizenship. Think of it – a touristic environment of peacefulness and non-interference bringing out the best in human nature, allowing contemplation to take place that many of us belief can lead to SELF directed good outcomes. That’s the key, which we explored last chapter about not being heavy handed about it.  The act of going into the world can be the first act in the theater of healing.”

Well, that is fairly utopian, isn’t it?  It requires a deep belief in the Biophilia hypothesis of Harvard Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson and the principles of Environmental Psychology doesn’t it? It flies in the face of Judeo-Christian notions of “original sin” and the Hobbesian view of human life being “Nasty Brutish and Short” and takes us right back to the debate between Hobbes and Lock and Jean Jacques Rousseaus Social Contract and ideas about Noble Savages and all that doesn’t it?  Do you really think Ecotourism offers insights into all this?

Well, we do have an opportunity for some controlled experiments here, which we didn’t have in the preceding centuries. All we have to do is control for a random sample of tourists, some engaging in normal hedonistic tourist activities and some in ecotourism, and see what the outcomes are and subject them to statistical analysis.  I mean look, the idea that meaningful activity makes a difference in people’s lives is now enshrined in the Holocaust survivor psychologist  Victor Frankel’s classic  “Man’s Search for Meaning” and  the idea that tourist destinations can have curative effects is what motivated Frederick Law Olmsted to create the completely artificial urban wilderness we now call Central Park.
Evaluating the impact of the growing Ecotourism sector shouldn’t be so difficult, as we can use not just stated preference surveys but Revealed Preference surveys to see what impact it is having. And remember how Weaver defines Ecotourism. He says on page 193,

“Ecotourism is the only high profile tourism sector where environmentally and socioeconomically
sustainable practices, or at least the credible attempt to engage in such
practices, are widely regarded as a prerequisite. It is because of this explicit accountability
and the issues of credibility it raises, that ecotourism is referred to in the title
of this chapter as the conscience of sustainable tourism. The reference to credible
attempts is from Weaver (2001b), who regards as unrealistic any definition that requires
the ecotourism product to be sustainable, given the challenges and issues of sustainability
discussed in Chapter 2. These render it effectively impossible to say that any
particular ecotourism product or destination is, without doubt, sustainable, especially
if these products and destinations involve high order protected areas or similar
venues that merit a strong approach to sustainability. Rather, the litmus test of ecotourism
according to Weaver (2001b) is the application of best practice strategies to
attain optimal sustainability outcomes and the timely remediation of any inadvertent
negative impacts that become apparent to management (see Section 11.6).”As with other sectors, the engagement with sustainability within ecotourism can
range from a ‘basic’ model that focuses on sustaining the on-site direct impact status
quo, to a deeper approach that focuses on the enhancement of the site and its surroundings
(potentially at a global level), while also taking into account the amelioration
of indirect impacts and the effects of external forces and systems (see Figure 2.1).”

Yes, and you seem to be a big believer in the remediation and enhancement ideas that Weaver talks about aren’t you?
Of course, and after all, this is what places like Central Park teach us.  Many people assume that Central park was the orginal Manhattan wilderness that the Dutch encountered when they created New Amsterdam which then became New York, and that the city was somehow built around this untouched piece of real estate. In fact the park was created out of an old munitions dump. The rocks were trucked in, the trees planted, the ponds and streams sculpted.  It is a work of art.
Having worked for 4 years in the horticulture department of the Los Angeles Zoo and participated in educational and interpretative ethnobotanical projects in ecotourism areas of Guatemala and Belize and Costa Rica, I know the kind of rehabilitation and enhancement and restorative magic we humans can participate in with nature once we understand the regenerative processes. I agree with Weaver when he says on pare 201, “environmental benefits derive from the capacity of ecotourism to
foster the rehabilitation of modified spaces and to mobilize ecotourists as volunteers (e.g. to plant trees, maintain trails and serve as informal auxiliary police) and a potent source of on-site and ongoing donations.”  When I was in Sumatera and Borneo with the Indonesian Forest Service we helped find and arrest poachers who were illegally logging the area.  What was best is that we had a chance to speak to them and find out why they were poaching. Most said they felt the tourism areas were socially unjust; that the government and tour operators were protecting the forests only for the benefit of the high paying ecotourists and they felt it was better to get some money from exploiting the forest in the short term than see it turned into a playground for the rich. I think if we hadn’t been there as a kind of informal auxiliary police we helped the real police do a better job. They might have simply beat the poachers for breaking the law… who knows… and that would have just made the conflict worse. By having us there as international observers who understood the issues we were able to get the different perspectives aired out, and that helps create better policy that meets all stakeholder needs. And knowing which trees had been removed and what the damage was we could take steps to reforest in responsible ways that attract the right wildlife rather than just planting any old fast growing tree which might not fit the ecology.
And when it comes to completely modified spaces, like cities, it gets even more exciting, especially for most of us who have to return to cities, given that over 60% of humanity now lives in urban environments.
Weaver says,
“Urban areas are an extreme version of modified space and therefore seem at first to be especially unsuited to ecotourism. However, the apparently oxymoronic concept of
urban ecotourism is now receiving considerable attention in the literature. Weaver (2005b) argues that within the urban area proper, ecotourism settings can range from remnant natural habitats in river valleys and hills, through to derelict and reclaimed sites, manicured green spaces such as municipal parks and golf courses, and built sites. The preserved forests in the centre of densely urbanized Singapore are a good illustration of the first scenario (Henderson et al., 2001), while the latter scenario is represented by the above-mentioned storks of Europe as well as the peregrine falcons reintroduced into high-rise buildings in some North
American central business districts. The city of Austin, Texas, is noted for a colony of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that roosts beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge*. Perhaps the best articulated example of urban ecotourism centred on abuilt structure, the bridge attracts an estimated 100 000 visitors per year and approximately $8 million in revenue (Moreno, 2004).”
As an urban planner, this particularly excites me because I can’t for the life of me see why, if we finally accept that human beings are animals that evolved with our environments and start seeing ourselves as completely “natural”, why we can’t focus on making our built environments as healthy and sustainable as that of any other organism that has achieved a balance with the ecosystem. After all, we don’t consider beehives, anthills, beaver dams or deer hollows “unnatural” or unsustainable.

Weaver excites the imagination when he says on page 200 “In addition to being conducive to an elemental approach to ecotourism attractions, modified spaces offer excellent opportunities for deep learning and sophisticated interpretation because of the complex landscape influences and effects that
they feature. The juxtaposition of remnant natural habitat with intensive arable land, for example, can be used to illustrate concepts such as edge and oasis effect, while succession can be featured in areas where rehabilitation is being undertaken.”
This is the sort of embedded learning that would have pleased Francis Bacon in the New Atlantis very much.
Weaver continues, “With regard to the third core criterion of sustainability, modified spaces have the advantage of having a high carrying capacity compared to relatively undisturbed natural venues, thereby meriting a weaker approach to sustainability. Ecotourism is therefore not only less likely to generate serious negative environmental impacts, but may serve as an effective agent of enhancement sustainability because of the opportunities for rehabilitation. From the perspective of sociocultural sustainability, modified spaces are more accessible to the ‘masses’ and hence avoid the problem of elitism that characterizes the visitation of hard ecotourists to remote wilderness locations.” So that addresses some of the issues we saw in Sumatera.
And when it comes to the truly threatened areas that simply can’t maintain their balance with too much human occupation of the wrong type, ecotourism provides some answers.  Yes, as Weaver reminds us, ecotourism creates a “a dilemma by concentrating ecotourism, and its potentially negative impacts, in
a shrinking amount of vulnerable space with the highest conservation value that is least capable of withstanding these impacts” But the comprehensive model seems to take that into account, with Weaver concluding,
the  comprehensive approach must be applied to both hard and soft ecotourism (see Figure 11.2), since it is allegedly the latter – soft ecotourism --  that produces the economies of scale necessary to operationalize the incentive and funding effects described in Section 11.6.1.” where he talks about ecotourism’s greatest environmental benefit, which is “providing a direct financial incentive for the preservation of relatively undisturbed natural habitats that would otherwise be exposed to more exploitative and profitable (at least in the short term) activities. This effect can also be indirect, as demonstrated by efforts to protect terrestrial watersheds in parts of the Philippines from logging in order to protect the clarity and quality of water in an area used for marine ecotourism (Sherman and Dixon, 1991). Ecotourism revenues, additionally, are a critical source of the funding required to undertake basic protected area management as well as park system expansion and enhancement”.
He reminds us that “ Through such accommodation, the model embraces all the opportunity classes of the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum, as well as both weak and strong approaches to sustainability, depending on the setting. In this way, the model in theory has a universal application that embraces ecotourism both as locally focused alternative tourism as well as corporation focused mass tourism.”

So essentially you are not opposed to corporate mass tourism? For ecotourism to be the ‘conscience of sustainable tourism” can we really allow corporations, which have been described as “negative externality machines” to be involved? What’s your final statement about that?

I think if we have learned anything from our journey into the topic of Sustainable Tourism it is that what we are all trying to do is figure out how to live on the planet without hurting ourselves or others, and we have all the tools we need. We are now in the implementation phase and the awareness building phase. Not everybody is aware that there are win wins out there, and the wealth and power amassed by corporations as they create and control mass markets has been devastating. But those same powers can be harnessed for great good once best practices are put in place and yes, Ecotourism has to be the conscience that guides this transition.  As Weaver states, and I’ll end with this in defense of Ecotourism as the most important tool we have to make things work,
All tourism entails costs as well as benefits and ecotourism is no exception. What
distinguishes ecotourism from other forms of tourism in this respect, however, is
that to qualify as such, every effort must be made to ensure that environmentally
and socioculturally sustainable practices are undertaken. Hence, most of the negative
impacts that do arise from ecotourism are inadvertent, while the positive
impacts are generally deliberate”.

If our conscience says to do DELIBERATE GOOD, and we face inadvertent harm, then fine, we can use our consilience and our science  and policy to correct those harms and try again. And that is why I believe that ALL tourism should apply the core principles and evolve into a form of Ecotourism, but an ecotourism that includes human ecology and does so by considering us and our industrial ecologies part of natural ecology. It’s a way of looking at the world.  We have the 8 core principles of the EcoCertification Programme which are 1) The need to focus on a personal experience with nature that leads to increased understanding and appreciation. We can’t forget that nature is at the core of our ability to survive, whether in the city or out in the countryside where the city’s ecological footprint is today so huge. 2) the integration of opportunities to understand the natural environment into each experience – that would include our experiences in the built environment and, 3) the pursuit of best practices – ones we know can turn our problems into solutions, our wastes and liabilities into fertilities and assets, 4) Positive contributions to conservation, -- every action we take should conserve and preserve or recycle or enhance 5) emphasize the rights and needs of local communities 6) be  sensitive to local cultures in product interpretation – this is just common decency  7) accurate marketing – that just means telling the truth and  8) meeting client expectations on a consistent basis – that means not just not lying or misrepresenting but talking  to people and listening  to people – to all stakeholders – that’s simple democracy in action --  and make sure you never turn a deaf ear to what people need. Most people don’t really need a vacation,you’ll find.  they need experiences that are meaningful and life affirming and joy enhancing and edifying. And we can create those anywhere and everywhere.
Apply the array of core and advanced indicators and require the Ecotourism Certification in which a product must meet 100 percent of the core criteria, scaling up to Advanced Certification and its critieria, and you shift society away from a destructive model to something far more productive. 
I see a time coming where, whether you are in the city or the countryside or in a wilderness, you will ask yourself three simple questions: Is the ecosystem here healthy and life affirming? Will what is happening here work economically so that it isn’t a net drain on the flows of income and will remain affordable both in a resource and financial sense? Is it socially just?
If the answer is yes to those three pillars, it will be sustainable, and visiting the location will be itself an economically viable, life affirming and dignified form of sustainable ecotourism. “

Host: Let’s hope your dreams of this Eutopia come true.
That’s all we have time for folks, so we hope you enjoyed our show and look forward to seeing you next season… or out in the field somewhere, putting these ideas into practice.  As they say, “Goodnight, and goodluck!”

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