Course:CONS200/2020/The socio-economic and environmental impacts of ecotourism in Sri Lanka
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Ecotourism in Sri Lanka
- 3 Impacts and Outcomes of Ecotourism
- 3.1 Socio-economic Impacts
- 3.2 Ecological Impacts
- 4 Case Studies of Ecotourism
- 5 Forest-Based Ecotourism
- 6 Options For Enhancing Ecotourism in Sri Lanka
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 References
What is Ecotourism
Lascurain defines ecotourism as a form of tourism that engages traveling to untouched natural areas for the sake of studying, admiring, as well as enjoying the scenery and biodiversity of the local area. Ecotourism practices contribute to the local environment that surrounds the site of tourism. This is done through direct conservation practices, or indirect provision of revenue as a source of income to the local communities that are devoted to protect their wildlife heritage.
There are four elements that are fundamental to ecotourism: “minimum environmental impact”, “minimum impacts and maximum respect for the local culture”, “maximum economic benefits to the local country’s grassroot” and “maximum ‘recreational’ satisfaction to participating tourists”. These elements are practiced thoroughly in order to provide a win-win situation between tourists and the environment, so much so that the tourist is able to be educated about the environment in a way that does not put the local environment at any harm.
Ecotourism surfaced on academic literatures in the 1990's though it was a form of tourism long before that. Ecologists had initially coined the concept as a way to prevent destruction of native land and flora and fauna, however, it slowly became a marketing term that promoted tourist destination with clean beaches, clear waters and healthy biodiversity. As a result, 'ecotourism' has had many definitions to its name, attracting a broad diversity of people including scientists, birdwatchers and tourists.
Ecotourism in the 21st century is much different to when it began to grow in the 90's. Records from academic literature show that tourists were swimming in pools of human waste, and that tour guides were capturing wild endemic animals for picture taking on tours. In comparison, it could be said that ecotourism today has moved to become more conscious about how both the environment and tourists are treated during an ecotour or a stay at an ecolodge, however, this expectation has become apparent through the industrialization and government involvement in ecotourism. Thus the stability of ecotourism in Sri Lanka as a shared concept between private companies, the government and the industry becomes more complex when dissecting and exploring.
Ecotourism in Sri Lanka
Tourism represents one of the major contributors to Sri Lanka’s economy. The country’s affluence in natural and cultural diversity means that it provides the perfect setting for developing a highly successful ecotourism sector which would help to further boost the economy. Given Sri Lanka’s history, having fairly recently suffered a civil war and tsunami, as a developing country- it could significantly benefit from capitalizing on such an opportunity. The concept of ecotourism was first established in Sri Lanka in 1980 by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, and the idea was to cultivate revenue and employment for the locals as well as establish sustainable conservation practices and promote environmental awareness. Thus far, ecotourism in Sri Lanka has a large gap to close between its current ecotourism practices and its potential. The majority of ecotourism in Sri Lanka to date appears in the form of ecotourism hotels, as well as ecotours in parks and reserves. As of 2002, approximately 7% of the country was dedicated to these protected areas. However, given the level of biodiversity and endemism concentrated within the small country of Sri Lanka, there is a long ways to go in terms of protecting wildlife habitat. This, in addition to the potential for economic revenue, has been recognized by the Sri Lankan government and so they are working to establish policies and plans in place to stimulate and support the country's ecotourism sector.
Impacts and Outcomes of Ecotourism
Revenue From Green Certified Hotels
Overall, tourism has continued to promote revenue for Sri Lanka in spite of various disasters, such as the civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2009, and the 2004 tsunami. However, there has been some fluctuation in the quality of tourism’s contribution; for example, during the civil war, tourism in Sri Lanka greatly declined until around the year 2009, marking the end of the civil war and marking the rapid increase rate that tourism took in Sri Lanka. In 2012, the number of tourists that had arrived in Sri Lanka was over 22 times greater than in 2009. While tourism currently sits in the top 5 contributors to Sri Lankan GDP, the more specific sector of ecotourism is viewed as having huge potential for growth, if it were better managed and promoted. Additionally, an increasing number of tourists are opting for Green Certified hotels at the expense of society learning more about climate change, and so ecotourism provides an excellent opportunity for Sri Lanka to further expand their economy. Furthermore, ecotourism creates higher revenue than regular tourism and many of the hotels in Sri Lanka are therefore looking to attract tourists looking for an environmentally friendly travel experience in order to make a higher profit.
While the majority of tourists who visit Sri Lanka, especially those that are international, still do not often visit the nature parks and reserves, 90% of those surveyed would have liked to but either were not aware of the ecotourism possibilities or these opportunities were not included in their travel package. Because international, non-package tourists who come specifically for ecotourism purposes spend the most, and therefore bring in the highest revenue to the Sri Lankan economy, enhancing and expanding the ecotourism sector holds enormous potential for the economy.
Increased Employment Opportunities
Currently tourism directly employs tens of thousands of people, and hundreds of thousands indirectly. Because of its unrealized potential in ecotourism, enhancing the sector of nature based tourism could result not only in a significant increase in revenue, but in employment opportunities as well. Ecotourism in its truest sense should shift governance and revenue of the economy to the local people by empowering them and providing them with employment and involvement in decision making. In increasing the number of tourists, the number of job opportunities in the hospitality industry, park and reserve management, and any other fields impacted by the ecotourism sector, would also increase, and the idea of ecotourism would be to have local people filling these positions.
Difficulty in Maintaining Green Certification and Lost Revenue
While ecotourism does generate a higher revenue, environmentally friendly products such as raw materials and supplies used in building maintenance are both expensive and difficult to obtain. It is therefore very difficult for Sri Lankan hotels to maintain their Green Certification due to limited access and budgetary constraints in a still-recovering economy.
Another challenge in supporting ecotourism in Sri Lanka is that many of the tourists are looking for luxury over Green Certification, and do not respond well to some of the eco-friendly features that the hotels have tried to implement. Just under three quarters of tourists visiting Sri Lanka have stated that pleasure is their reason for visiting; less than a fifth come for ecotourism. Catering to ecotourism could thus result in lost revenue if not managed or promoted in a way that is appealing to those looking for luxury and pleasure during their time in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is recognized for its high level of diversity and endemism of both flora and fauna. When the idea of identifying certain areas as ‘hotspots’ of global biodiversity was established, Sri Lanka was among the first eighteen countries to be recognized. Because of the country’s high level of endemism, local species are more vulnerable to extinction than others listed on the Endangered Species List. The rates of habitat loss due to deforestation and land conversion in Sri Lanka, are done mostly done to clear space for agriculture and plantations. The rates of habitat lost in Sri Lanka are one of the highest in the entirety of South Asia, thus placing more pressure on the already vulnerable biodiversity. Moreover, the areas that are considered intact are highly fragmented reducing the gene flow within a species as well as resulting in the isolation of habitats- which is detrimental to biodiversity.
Many species, such as elephants, require large, connected areas for both roaming territory, and to maintain genetic diversity. Elephants are particularly important in Sri Lanka as the country has a high number of wild Asian elephants, a flagship species to the country, in a relatively small area. Therefore, there is tremendous potential for ecotourism to have a positive impact in conserving the diversity of flora and fauna species- if it is properly and effectively implemented.
Funding for Conservation of Species
As a developing country, Sri Lanka currently has very little funding to support species conservation in protected areas. However, due to the high level of revenue brought in by tourists looking for ecologically-friendly opportunities as an attempt to connect with the natural world, and because of its high level of biodiversity and endemism, Sri Lanka has the opportunity to create a significant source of funding for conservation through promoting and enhancing the level of ecotourism offered. When asked about their willingness to pay (WTP) for the opportunities for ecotourism provided by Sri Lankan nature parks and reserves in the form of entrance fees, the majority of tourists, both international and domestic, agreed that they would be willing to pay more for entrance to parks in their current state, and significantly more for improvements to the parks and reserves. Even a small increase in entrance fees would result in a substantial increase in revenue to fund species conservation. Thus, promoting ecotourism presents a valuable opportunity for parks to have, as an access to funding their conservation efforts. Parks are guaranteed to see benefits as long as it is implemented and managed consciously and effectively.
Education on Conservation
Around 60% of tourist operators in Sri Lanka provide visitors with information and education on how to safely interact with the local environement or how to safely observe the native wildlife. Furthermore, 73% recognize the importance of educating tourists in minimizing negative impact on the local environment, and attempt to do their best to be efficient with the resources they have available to them. Much research has shown that when properly carried out, ecotourism is very successful in cultivating a higher level of appreciation for and understanding of environmentally-conscious practices. By promoting ecotourism, both visitors and locals are provided with a special and unique opportunity to impart and receive important information on conservation efforts and environmental stewardship.
Failure to Uphold Regulations and Reputations
Currently, Sri Lanka's potential as an ecotourism destination appears to exceed the level of ecotourism that the country provides in the present day. There is a lack of enforcement, regulation, and education surrounding the principles of ecotourism in the Sri Lankan tourist and hospitality industries. Due to the lack of education and high costs of eco-friendly practices and facilities, many of the tourism establishments in Sri Lanka have failed to uphold the ecotourism guidelines outlined by the International Ecotourism Society (IES). Examples of this include using chlorine for pools and other toxic chemicals for cleaning and maintenance around the hotels, as well as a lack of water and sewage treatment systems. Additionally, Sri Lanka has long and intense dry seasons, which means that large amounts of water are required during these seasons to irrigate gardens and other vegetated areas around the hotels and tourism industry businesses. While much of the establishments try to recycle their water, the length of these dry periods makes it difficult for Sri Lanka to reduce their water consumption and still provide an attractive destination for tourists.
As discussed above, because hotels must respond to customer demands in order to stay in business and make profit, when visitors express a lack of demand to eco-friendly features and measures, it makes it difficult for hotels to maintain their Green Certification as well as promote themselves as ecotourism destinations.This has resulted in an issue of 'greenwashing', or portraying misleading environmental impressions of Sri Lanka's ecotourism reputation. In this way, tourists looking for environmentally friendly travel destinations are satisfied, albeit falsely, while the tourists looking purely for luxury from their experiences are also appeased, unless the hotel is caught and loses its certification. However, while economically this may be a win-win situation, it means that on an ecological level, the tourism industry continues to have a negative impact on the environment.
Case Studies of Ecotourism
The Effectiveness of National Parks
The Benefits of National Parks
To promote ecotourism, Sri Lanka has many national parks. National Parks have been effective within ecotourism in Sri Lanka as they provide quality recreation opportunities to visitors while protecting park resources. Currently, the five most visited national parks in Sri Lanka are Yala, Wilpattu, Minneriya, Horton Plains and Udawalawe National Park. National Parks have supported Sri Lanka's economy with the total revenue from visitation to National Parks exceeding USD 7.6 million in 2015, and foreign visitation accounting for over 95% of the total revenue.In the year 2015, a total of 558,521 foreign tourists and 950,553 local tourists visited Sri Lankan National Parks which amounted to a 180% and 49% increase in foreign and local visitation. This influx in tourism has also supported conservation efforts. Ecotourism in general allows tourists to enjoy their stay within the country while educating tourists on how to minimize their environmental impacts on wildlife whilst increasing their concern for conservation. The money from tourists can also provide funds for protection of the natural environment. Overall, the use of National Parks in Sri Lanka have greatly assisted the Sri Lankan economy while promoting sustainability and funding the maintenance of these natural parks.
The Disadvantages of National Parks
One disadvantage of National Parks is the high number of tourists. An example of overcrowding tourism took place in Wasgomuwa National Park. Wasgomuwa National Park is located in the south west part of Sri Lanka 240 km from the capital, Colombo. The park is comprised of tropical dry forests which is the habitat for an abundance of species. These species include: Asian elephants, Leopards, Sloth Bears, Golden Jackals, Water buffalos, Slender loris, Wild boars, Spotted deers, Barking deers, Sambar deer, Black napped hares, and fishing cats. There is also 143 different species of birds and large reptiles. This amounts to the total land area to be 395.85km. In 2016, Wasgomuwa National Park faced an overcrowding of visitors which can have both social and ecological effects. The ecological disturbances include damaging vegetation, collection of plants and animal parts, off-road walking and driving, trampling of grasslands, littering of water bodies, and feeding and disturbing of animals. Within social disturbances, visitors may experience unacceptable levels of noise, over-crowded and congested trails and viewing points, and unwarranted visitor behavior and/or actions that would interfere with the viewing pleasure of others. The most common complaint among tourists was the heavy visitor traffic with nearly 53% of the 206 negative reviews containing terms/phrases related to heavy visitor traffic. These unsatisfactory social disturbances can then result in decreased levels of visitor satisfaction, which may effect the success of the park. As National Parks rely on satisfaction of the tourists, tourist dissatisfaction may lead to reduced tourist interest and rise of unsustainable actions.
Impacts on Locals
According to Benadusi in the article Elephants Never Forget: Capturing Nature at the Border of Ruhuna National Park (Yala), Sri Lanka, she accuses National Parks of "Green grabbing." The term "green grabbing" refers to an appropriation of nature with a distinct environmental aspect. Other problems highlighted by Benadusi are the effects of National Parks on local farmers. "These infrastructural and touristic investments are making a drastic impact on local farmers, making it even more difficult for them to access land and natural resources." Other problems include direct conflicts with wildlife itself. According to Chandana, a local farmer, conflicts between humans and elephants are caused by dispossession projects at the borders of the parks. These elephants end up crossing out of the parks, and can act aggressive. According to Benadusi, in 2006, an elephant killed two men that were alongside the Yala National Park’s southwest border. The deaths of the men provoked the locals and they "broke into the offices of the Wildlife Conservation Department, throwing stones and trying to destroy the building. The park guards opened fire, killing one and wounding nine others, and ended by arresting 40 individuals." The use of National Parks in Sri Lanka have a major impact on locals as their jobs and lives are affected.
One such example of ecotourism in Sri Lanka is Forest-Based Ecotourism. Forest-Based Eco-tourism can be defined as natural, historical, and cultural resources of a destination. Most forest-based recreational destinations are located in either dry zones or wet zones (or climates) with different types of biodiversity in each zone. Most tourists in Sri Lanka reported that they go to forest-based attractions to be in a natural setting while spending time with friends and family. However, according to a study by Priyan (2012), many tourists visited these destinations mainly for self-centered reasons rather than for the curiosity of nature.
Forest-Based Ecotourism Conflicts
On the other hand, there can be legal issues regarding forest-based recreational destinations as they may not comply with the current legal framework of ecotourism. Forest resources are owned by the Forest Department (FD) and Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC), and currently, these agencies do not have the required resources to manage forest-based ecotourism. As forest-based ecotourism has both the components of environment and tourism, the environmental and tourism agencies need to operate together, however, this is not the case. Currently there are no legal regulations regarding forest-based ecotourism, thus it can cause conflicts as many businesses attach "eco" to their names, and yet do not comply with sustainable principals. With no legal regulations, there can be potential problems that could lead to negative environmental impacts. This example is similar to that of the hotels with the green certificates, that loose the ability to remain sustainability due to the lack in demand for such.
Potential Forest-Based Destinations
An example of an ideal site for a forest-based destination is the Knuckles Forest, located in the Central providence of the country. The Knuckles Forest is ideal as it contains scenic beauty that could attract both local and international tourist and provide economic benefits, as 95 percent of locals believe that forest-based ecotourism could create positive impacts on their income. Mostly, forest-based ecotourism could support locals as an alternative income for those who lost income from the forest's conservation zones. It is important to understand what an ideal forest-based destination is, in order to provide a model for future destinations.
Options For Enhancing Ecotourism in Sri Lanka
Due to the gap in potential for the ecotourism sector in Sri Lanka and the level to which it is practiced currently, there is significant room for improvement for the country’s ability to capitalize on the ecotourism sector. Three examples of areas that could be improved to enhance ecotourism in Sri Lanka are education, marketing, and funding.
One of the fundamental ideas of ecotourism is that it promotes respect and awareness about the conservation of biodiversity. It is therefore vital that countries that are practicing ecotourism provide material and present information to tourists so that they conduct themselves in ways that minimize their impact on the environment. The majority of ecotourism-labelled or green-certified hotels in Sri Lanka do not practice and do not even recognize the importance of educating their customers on ecologically-conscious behaviors when embarking on ecotourism opportunities. By providing a range of information such as reading material, short informative videos, as well as the proper training to employees in the ecotourism sector, such as guides and park workers, Sri Lanka would greatly reduce their ecological impact and better follow the concept of true ecotourism.
Sri Lanka has significant room to improve in their marketing of the country's ecotourism opportunity. Approximately half of the tourists visiting Sri Lanka are internationals who do not visit the country’s parks or reserves, and a further 30% are locals who also do not engage with any of the ecotourism opportunities. This is largely due to tourists buying travel packages which are bought outside of the country which do not advertise any part of Sri Lanka’s ecotourism sector. This continues to occur despite the fact that tourists who do not come for the ecotourism indicate that they would have liked to visit had the opportunity be presented to them. The marketing is severely lacking and invisibilizing an important sector of the Sri Lankan tourism industry which could positively contribute to both the environment and the economy. By improving the level and quality of advertisement for the country’s ecotourism hotels, parks and reserves, Sri Lanka could increase the number of tourists overall, increasing revenue for the overall economy, as well as increase funding for conservation efforts which will ultimately contribute to conservation and the quality of the entire ecotourism sector.
As a developing country, and having undergone some economically-damaging crises in the last several decades, Sri Lanka is not a country that has large stores of finances to pour into things like conservation of biodiversity unless there is a sector, such as ecotourism, that is put in place specifically to yield funding for the cause. Increasing funding opportunities could come in the form of increasing the average length that visitors stay or attracting international and non-package ecotourists as they are the highest-spending tourist demographic. Another proposed and surveyed solution is the option of introducing or increasing entrance fees to parks and reserves, which is an idea that has received positive feedback by the large majority of visitors surveyed. Sri Lanka currently does not have much funding for causes such as conservation of their diverse flora and fauna, however this could be addressed by the stimulation of the country’s ecotourism sector. Additionally, ecotourism goes even further than creating funds for conservation purposes as it is also, by definition, meant to economically benefit the local people and involve them in governance and decision making. Finally, increasing funding would allow ecotourism businesses, like hotels, to have the financial ability to invest in products, such as raw materials and infrastructure, that are environmentally friendly and would help to reduce their ecological footprint.
Ecotourism in Sri Lanka has undergone many changes since its introduction in the 1980's. Becoming a more popular form of tourism over the years, ecotourism has impacted the socioeconomic status of Sri Lanka by providing locals with jobs such as tour guiding, maintenance of national parks and many more. Furthermore, ecotourism has promoted more respectable behaviors that have been adopted by both the local community and international tourists by educating them on the local environment. Sri Lanka has experienced a tsunami and a civil war in relatively recent years, which has had a negative impact on the tourist demographic per annum, as well as the socioeconomic standing of the country. As a developing country, it seems the ecotourism in Sri Lanka should be given more funding and advertising as it would attract more tourism as a whole and thus boost their socioeconomic standing. Places like the Knuckles forest in the central providence of the country has already seen an influx in employment opportunities as well as a healthier environment as locals become more knowledgable on how to behave and treat the biodiversity in their immediate environment. Sri Lanka's biodiversity is very endemic to the country and thus, it is important to conserve and protect them while simultaneously rebuilding their economy and finding their place in the global market.
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