Course:CONS200/2020/The socio-economic and environmental impacts of ecotourism in Sri Lanka

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What is Ecotourism

Eco Lodges are an example of the ecotourism taking place in Sri Lanka. Tourists that part take in staying at these lodges learn about conservation in Sri Lanka as well as reducing their ecological footprint

There are multiple definitions of ecotourism proposed by scholars, but the proper use of the term is suggested by Ceballios-Lascurain (1987). Lascurain defines Ecotourism as the form of tourism where human beings travel to untouched and uncontaminated natural areas for the sake of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery, creatures and the local cultural events specific to the region[1]. Since ecotourism acts as a form of nature tourism, there are often misconceptions of the difference between them. Natural tourism comprises many forms of tourism, such as mass tourism, adventure tourism, low-impact tourism, ecotourism [2]. This form of tourism commonly consumes natural resources in the wild or developed form, which indicates its influence towards the natural habitat and its nature of the intention to purely enjoy the undeveloped wildlife [2]. Ecotourism is in fact the tourism practice which contributes to the nature 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[2]. More specifically, there are four elements fundamental to develop this form of tourism, such that it produces the “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”[3].

Wealth acts as an important factor of shaping one's attitude and in consideration of individual decisions. Along with the improvement in the economy, the general public have more resources to improve their standard of living.  Noting that international tourism is exclusive to those who can afford the expenses, demand is dependent on the income of the consumer [4].The resources to travel is therefore one of the indicators of people’s increase in wealth. Similarly,  people’s attitude towards environmental issues are influenced by the general economic development of the community. For instance, more affluent nations have the resources to invest in environmental education and the citizens in these countries also get to spend on green products[5] .  As a result, willingness of citizens from wealthier countries to engage in ecotourism increases.  

Ecotourism in Sri Lanka

How Ecotourism is Practiced in Sri Lanka

Tourism act as one of the major contributor of the economy in Sri Lanka. Since Sri Lanka has an environment rich in cultural and natural diversity, it provides the perfect setting for the country to develop ecotourism to facilitate the economy[6]. The market of ecotourism has became increasingly diverse along with wising demand, such that there are different form of ecotourism operated to meet expectations of various consumers[7]. Tourists travel motivation can be explained by the pull and push factors.[8] The pull factors delineate the framework of understanding tourists impetus to behave and the push factors are the factors leading to one's decision to the travelling location.[8] Understanding the different expectation, different types of ecotourism is developed base on the three core criteria telling ecotourist apart.[8] The three criteria are "type of sites visited by tourists", "on-site activities" and "motivation to visit". [8]Take Forest-Based Recreational Destinations as an example, tourists' intention to go to these site are primarily because of the will to be in the natural setting.[8]

Impacts and Outcomes of Ecotourism

SocioEconomic Impacts

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 and tsunami[9]. However, there has been some fluctuation in the quality of tourism’s contribution; for example, in light of the civil war, tourism in Sri Lanka greatly declined until around the year 2009, when it started to rise at a rapid rate[10]. In 2012, the number of tourists that had arrived in Sri Lanka was over 22 times greater than in 2009[10]. 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[9]. Additionally, an increasing number of tourists are opting for Green Certified hotels, and so ecotourism provides an excellent opportunity for Sri Lanka to further expand their economy[11]. 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[12].

While the majority of tourists who visit Sri Lanka, especially those that are international, still do not 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[9]. 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[9].

Increased Employment Opportunities

Currently tourism directly employs tens of thousands of people, and hundreds of thousands indirectly[9]. 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[6]. 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[6].

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[11]. 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[11]. 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[11]. 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[9]. 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.

Ecological Impacts

Species Conservation

Wild Asian Elephants are a flagship species of Sri Lanka. Elephant Orphanages are set up in hopes to conserve their population

Sri Lanka is recognized for its high level of diversity and endemism of both flora and fauna[13]. 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[13]. Because of the country’s high level of endemism, local species are more vulnerable to extinction than others listed on the Endangered Species List[13]. The rates of habitat loss due to deforestation and land conversion in Sri Lanka, are done mostly 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[13]. 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[13]. Many species, such as elephants, require large, connected areas both for roaming territory as well as to maintain genetic diversity[9]. Elephants are particularly important in Sri Lanka as the country has a high number of wild Asian elephants, which are a flagship species, in a relatively small area[9]. 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[14].

Funding for Conservation of Species

As a developing country, Sri Lanka currently has very little funding to support species conservation in protected areas[9]. However, due to the high level of revenue brought in by tourists looking for ecologically-friendly opportunities 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[9][13]. 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[9]. Even a small increase in entrance fees would result in a substantial increase in revenue to fund species conservation[9]. Thus, promoting ecotourism presents a valuable opportunity for parks to have access to funding their conservation efforts, as long as it is implemented and managed consciously and effectively.

Education on Conservation

About 60% of tourist operators in Sri Lanka provide visitors with information and education on how to safely interact with the local community or observe the wildlife native to the country, while 73% recognize the importance of this in minimizing negative impact on the local environment and attempt to do their best with the resources they have available to them[14]. 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[6]. 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[9].

Failure to Uphold Regulations

Currently, Sri Lanka's potential as an ecotourism destination appears to exceed what the level of ecotourism that the country provides in the present day[14]. There is a lack of enforcement, regulation, and education surrounding the principles of ecotourism in the Sri Lankan tourist and hospitality industries[14]. Due to the lack of education and high costs of eco-friendly practices and facilities, many of the tourism establishments in Sri Lanka fail to uphold the ecotourism guidelines outlined by the International Ecotourism Society (IES)[14]. 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[14]. Additionally, Sri Lanka has a long and intense dry season which means that large amounts of water are required to irrigate gardens and other vegetated areas around the hotels and tourism industry businesses; while many 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[11].

As discussed above, because hotels must respond to customer demands in order to stay in business and make profit, when visitors reject 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' Sri Lanka's ecotourism reputation[14]. 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

Economic Benefits

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[10]. Currently, the five most visited national parks in Sri Lanka are Yala, Wilpattu, Minneriya, Horton Plains and Udawalawe National Park[11]. National Parks have supported Sri Lanka's economy with the total revenue from visitation to National Parks exceeded USD 7.6 million in 2015 with foreign visitation accounting for over 95% of the total revenue[11].In the year 2015, a total of 558,521 foreign tourists and 950,553 local tourists visited Sri Lankan National Parks respectively, amounting to a 180% and 49% increase in foreign and local visitation compared to post-war 2011[11]. 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 and increase their concern for conservation[12]. The money from tourists also can provide funds for protection of the natural environment[12]. 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. However, because the success of ecotourism in National Parks rely on the satisfaction of tourists, each park has it's own set of problems that decrease visitor satisfaction. A lower visitor satisfaction score may result in a fall in tourists which can greatly affect the Sri Lankan economy.

The Disadvantages of National Parks

Visitors Disruptions

One disadvantage of National Parks is the effects of 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[14]. The park is comprised of tropical dry forests which is the habitat for an abundance of species such as 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[14]. There is also 143 different species of birds and large reptiles so the total land area is 395.85km[14]. In 2016, Wasgomuwa National Park faced an overcrowding of visitor crowding which can have both social and ecological effects[14]. 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[14]. 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[14]. 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[11]. 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[11].

Yala National Park (Sri Lanka 2012) by Patty Ho
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 the resource appropriation undertaken in the name of the environment, sustainability, and green values[15]. 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.[15]" 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[15]. 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[15]. 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.[15]" The use of National Parks in Sri Lanka have a major impact on locals as their jobs and lives are affected.

Forest-Based Ecotourism

Explaining Forest-Based Ecotourism

Forest-Based Eco-tourism can be defined as natural, historical, and cultural resources of a destination[16]. Most forest-based recreational destinations are located in either dry zones or wet zones with different types of biodiversity in each zone[16]. Most tourists reported they go to forest-based attractions to be in a natural setting while spending time with friends and family[16]. However, according to the study, many tourists visited these destinations mainly for self-centered reasons rather than for the curiosity of nature[16].

Forest-Based Ecotourism Conflicts

However, there can be legal issues regarding forest-based recreational destinations as they may not comply with the current legal framework of ecotourism[17]. Forest resources are owned by the Forest Department (FD) and Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC)[17]. Currently, these agencies do not have the required resources to manage forest-based ecotourism[17]. As forest-based ecotourism has components of the environment and tourism, environmental and tourism agencies need to operate together[17]. Currently there are no legal regulations regarding forest-based ecotourism[17]. This can cause conflicts as many businesses attach "eco" to their names, yet do not comply with sustainable principals. With no legal regulations, there can be potential problems that could lead to negative environmental impacts[17].

Potential Forest-Based Destinations

An ideal site for a forest-based destination is the Knuckles Forest. Located in the Central providence of the country, the Knuckles Forest has a range of biodiversity[18]. The Knuckles Forest is ideal as it contains scenic beauty that could attract both local and international tourists[18]. The Knuckles Forest could provide economic success as 95 percent of locals believe that forest-based ecotourism could create positive impacts on their income[18]. Mostly, the hopes of forest-based ecotourism could support locals as an alternative income for those who lost income from the forest's conservation zones[18].

Options For Enhancing Ecotourism in Sri Lanka

An evaluation of solutions from technical, social, cultural, economic, financial, political and/or legal points of view (not all of these categories will be relevant to all situations). If relevant, add any policy recommendations.


1) (Valaoras et al. 2002)Local and International ecotourism stakeholders should be independent from government intervention in creating policies to protect and manage natural areas (including national parks). This should be directly specifically to the ministries of tourism and environment.


A description of the solutions or efforts that are currently underway to tackle the issue or problem.


1) Wood (2002: 2004a): It is currently important to establish Sri Lanka as an ecotourism destination as International ecotourism agencies help finance them a


Will include a concise summary of the topics as well as our take on the positive and negative impacts of ecotourism in Sri Lanka and the potential solutions and improvements.


  1. CHEIA, G (2013). "ECOTOURISM: DEFINITION AND CONCEPTS". Revista de turism - studii si cercetari in turism. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Fennell, D (1999). "Ecotourism: an introduction". International Journal of Tourism Research. 3: 36. 
  3. Fennell, D (1999). "Ecotourism: an introduction". International Journal of Tourism Research. 3: 31. 
  4. Kim, Hong-bumm; Park, Jung-Ho; Lee (2012). [Do expectations of future wealth increase outbound tourism? Evidence from Korea "Do expectations of future wealth increase outbound tourism? Evidence from Korea"] Check |url= value (help). Tourism Management. 33 (5): 1141–1147.  |first4= missing |last4= in Authors list (help)
  5. Ott, Ingrid; Soretz, Susanne (2018). [DOI:10.1007/s10640-016-0061-z "Green attitude and economic growth"] Check |url= value (help). Environmental and Resource Economics. 70 (4): 757–779. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Bandara, Ranjith (2010). "The Practice of Ecotourism in Sri Lanka: An Assessment of Operator Compliance towards International Ecotourism Guidelines". South Asia Economic Journal. 10 (2): 471–492. 
  7. Higham, James; Carr, Anna (2002). "Ecotourism visitor experiences in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Challenging the environmental values of visitors in pursuit of proenvironmental behavior". Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 10 (4): 277–294. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Vlosky, Richard P; Wahala, Sampath B (2011). "Motivational and Behavioral Profiling of Visitors to Forest-based Recreational Destinations in Sri Lanka". Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research. 17 (4): 451–467. 
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 World Bank (2010). Promoting Nature-Based Tourism for Management of Protected Areas and Elephant Conservation in Sri Lanka. Washington, D.C.: Open Knowledge Repository. pp. 5–53. ISBN 9781098612542. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Rathnayake, Rathnayake Mudiyanselage Wasantha (January 20, 2016). "Economic values for recreational planning at Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka". International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment. 18: 213–231. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 11.9 Prakash, Sapun Lahiru; Perera, Priyan; Newsome, David; Tharaka, Kusuminda; Walker, Obelia (2019). "Reasons for visitor dissatisfaction with wildlife tourism experiences at T highly visited national parks in Sri Lanka". Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism. 25: 102–112. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Rathnayake, Rathnayake Mudiyanselage Wasantha (August 19, 2015). "Willingness to pay for a novel visitor experience: ecotourism planning at Kawdulla National Park". Tourism Planning & Development. 13: 37–51. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Gunawardene, Nihara (10 December 2007). "A Brief Overview of the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot". Current Science. 93 (11): 1567–1572. 
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 Rathnayake, Rathnayake Mudiyanselage Wasantha (2016). "Vehicle crowding vs. consumer surplus: A case study at Wasgomuwa National Park in Sri Lanka applying HTCM approach". Tourism Management Perspectives. 20: 30–37. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Benadusi, Mara (2015). "Elephants Never Forget: Capturing Nature at the Border of Ruhuna National Park (Yala), Sri Lanka". Capitalism Nature Socialism. 26: 77–96. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Perera, Priyan (2012). "Motivational and Behavioral Profiling of Visitors to Forest-based Recreational Destinations in Sri Lanka". Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research. 17: 451–467. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 "Forest attraction: Can Sri Lanka use ecotourism for sustainable forest management?". Daily Mirror Sri Lanka. February 12, 2014. Retrieved March 22, 2020. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Wickramasinghe1, Kanchana; Steele, Paul; Senaratne, Athula. "Socio-economic Impacts of Forest Conservation on Peripheral Communities: Case of Knuckles National Wilderness Heritage of Sri Lanka∗". Strengthening Voices for Better Choices: 1–15. 

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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