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The term Ecotourism is comparatively new, although the concept is much older. There are a number of definitions of the term, but perhaps the most comprehensive is that created by the American-based Ecotourism Society, which describes it as; "purposeful travel to natural areas; to understand the cultural and natural history of the environment; taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem, while producing economic opportunities that make conservation of natural resources beneficial to local people”. This definition fits neatly into the South African context, catering for the need for conservation of both the cultural and the natural environment, and for sustainable economic development - particularly for the benefit of “local people”.
The South African definition, as formulated by Dr G.A Robinson when he was CEO of SANParks in the 1990s, is very similar and essentially reflects the same values with a somewhat different emphasis:
(1) “the protection of living and non-living natural resources
(2) the promotion of appropriate and environmentally sensitive development
(3) the contribution to the goals of achieving social justice and enhancing the quality of life and stability - especially for the communities in the immediate vicinity of protected area
The international definition of the word Ecotourism implies far more than merely a nature-experience.
The term environment in its broader context has come to include the diverse community activities and cultures of a country's peoples, as well as all the natural resources (including biodiversity).
Ecotourism, therefore, implies tourism practices that benefit all concerned parties (all people and the entire environment) - rather than benefiting some and neglecting others.
The South Africa definition puts more emphasis on people as the key role players.
To ensure that Ecotourist activities meet all the requirements in the definition there are a number of prerequisites that must be met to ensure that Ecotourism is sustainable. SOME of the most important are listed below:
Proper planning before development
Sustainable use of resources. This means that there must be no negative impact on either the environment and/or local communities (people)
Economic viability of all tourism products must be ensured, with significant economic benefits flowing to local communities
The developers must be held responsible and accountable for the environment on which their business is dependent
The tourism industry and tourists must be properly regulated.
South Africa’s biggest current challenge is the battle against poverty. There are two pre-conditions required before poverty can be adequately addressed:
There must be political stability
There must be economic growth and development
Political stability and economic upliftment are mutually dependent
Some of the poorest people in SA live in densely populated rural areas, often adjacent to highly valued natural areas. Much of this land is marginal for farming and ecologically fragile. An estimated 16+ million people live in such rural areas; four-fifths of them live under the “Household Effective Threshold’ - the minimum on which a family of five can subsist. Of these 13 million people suffer deprivation to some degree or other, and some nine million are landless.
Rural poverty in South Africa cannot be turned around by agricultural development because:
There is not enough suitable agricultural land
Many individuals in rural areas prefer not to be involved in agriculture as a means of livelihood
Our natural resources are
water (marine and fresh)
all living things (including our ethnic/cultural mix of people)
That is our total South African environment and all that is embodied in it.
As humans we are involved in the management of all these resources.
THE THREE MAIN OBJECTIVES FOR THE CONSERVATION OF LIVING RESOURCES ARE
Responsible Ecotourism is sustainable - which means that it integrates economic, social, and environmental considerations within a sustainable system (the triple bottom line).
A sustainable system is one that survives and continues to function over a long period of time.
There are also other non-tangible items like the maintenance of a beautiful landscape, peace and quiet (no noise or light pollution), and a host of human values like culture, religion, and aesthetics that also need to be considered.
ADVANTAGES OF ECOTOURISM - the fastest growing sector in the international travel industry, the main advantages of Ecotourism are
1. Between the State and/or the Provincial Conservation Agencies, and Local Communities.
An example of a partnership between the state and the local community is the Pilanesberg National Park, managed by the North-West Province’s Parks and Conservation Authority. It consists of 30 000ha in a dormant volcanic crater. Local communities receive 10% of gate revenues and a range of eco-development projects have been initiated in surrounding villages. The conservation agency has also helped the local community to establish a community reserve, Lebatlane. A recent survey conducted in the area surrounding the park indicated that over 70% of local people supported the continued existence of the park…
Kagga Kamma “Place of Bushmen”, a private Game Reserve in the Cedarberg mountains of the Western Cape, could be considered a partnership between the community and Kagga Kamma ownership.
3. Community-driven Projects.
At Kosi Bay, the Community Resource Optimisation Programme (CROP), a non-government organisation assists a local committee to run a rustic tented camp…
4. Tripartite Alliance - Government, Local Communities and Private Sector.
A good example is the Pongola “Biosphere” Reserve in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. The biosphere started as a private sector initiative, joined by the Government, KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife and local communities. All parties are equal shareholders.