So, returning to the three pillars of sustainable tourism, we recall that they’re environmental, social and economic. We can expand them out a little if we like, to : physical environment / conservationist , socio-cultural / societal and economic / profitable. They’re about retaining enough of the first two and having enough of the third.
And we can all relate to these concepts. Let’s look at them overly simplistically.
If tourism results in damage to, or destruction of, the natural environment (the very thing, perhaps, which brings the tourists to a certain location in the first place), then the writing is clearly on the wall.
If tourism to witness a different culture results in degradation of that local culture, its traditions and mores, then, once again, we can see how unsustainable that would be. Although we can go to Africa and meet locals with Offaly jerseys on, is that really good ?
Thirdly, if supplying the tourism products and services is not economically sustainable to the local business, then what benefit is that to the provider ?
It is this third pillar – the one which attracts the least frenzy from the green tourists and eco-warriors out there – I want to discuss. I’d like to get your feedback.
You see, in my experience, despite some best intentions, this is the weakest pillar. In my experience (and I’m not saying it is always the case), the very providers of ecotourism and green tourism products are often not gaining sufficiently.
But what I don’t want to do here today is start hammering the intermediaries. I’m not going to talk about blood-sucking tour operators who take the largest chunks of profit for themselves. No. Why ? Because it is incumbent on all of us ecotourists to deal directly with service providers, where possible. Where not, try to seek out local, small-scale intermediaries who have a true relationship with the providers themselves and who do not take excessive profit margins.
It is perhaps the very nature of ecotourism providers (and, again, I stress that I am not saying this is true of all), that they are not all that motivated by cash. They might be people who just switch off from the modern, wasteful, pollutant, greedy, selfish world, as they see it. They might be ‘tree-huggers’, they might be ‘alternatives’, they might be ‘new age hippies’.
To many ecotourism providers, words like ‘marketing’, ‘sales’, ‘growth’, ‘profits’, and so on, are anathema. In many ways, that is a wonderful thing and a beautiful standpoint to hold dear. But wherein lies the sustainability ?
Of course, those who champion all the aforementioned words and concepts view life from another position. To them, profit and money are the bases of our existence. To them, sustainability can only be, primarily at least, financial and, therefore, economic.
This, surely, is the fundamental argument about sustainability and ecotourism. That no, not just economic sustainability will suffice. That yes, a balance must be struck between having enough and retaining enough. That yes, genuine ecotourism providers deserve our support because, honestly, they probably won’t be out banging on our doors for it.