Ecotourism has become a popular alternative to the mass tourism of recent decades, and has been estimated to be growing at a rate of 10-15% per annum. Ecotourism focuses on ecologically and socially responsible nature based tourism that fosters environmental appreciation and understanding while contributing to the local economy.
According to the definition and principles of ecotourism established by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, ecotourism is "Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 1990). Those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
- minimize impact
- build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
- provide direct financial benefits for conservation
- provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
Ideally, ecotourism should satisfy several criteria, such as:
- conservation of biological diversity and cultural diversity through ecosystem protection
- promotion of sustainable use of biodiversity, by providing jobs to local populations
- sharing of socio-economic benefits with local communities by having their informed consent and participation in the management of ecotourism enterprises
- tourism to unspoiled natural resources, with minimal impact on the environment being a primary concern.
- minimization of tourism's own environmental impact
- affordability and lack of waste in the form of luxury
- local culture, flora and fauna being the main attractions
(Text taken from Wikipedia).
However, the term Ecotourism is often misused and applied to many situations and services which are in fact exploitative and destructive. It is often used as a marketing ploy without providing any real benefits for local communities and environments. Such ‘greenwashing’ can be counteracted through the establishment of credible criteria and standards that must be met before a business can be awarded an ecotourism label or stamp of approval and recognition. Increasingly, discerning tourists are seeking out destinations and services that carry such credentials.
The Burren Connect Project organized a number of meetings/workshops on the topic of Ecotourism in the Burren. The first event was a research trip to the Greenbox area in the NW of the country, marketed as ‘Ireland’s first ecotourism destination’, which is the only area in Ireland, north or south, which applies standards, criteria, labeling and training to develop and distinguish its ecotourism product. (Visit Greenbox for further information).
The Greenbox administrative team and certified businesses were in turn invited to a public workshop in the Burren (Kilfenora, May 20th) to discuss their experience with the certification process, its development and application. Details were also given on Training programmes.
A further public meeting was organized to discuss how ecotourism might be developed in the Burren. It was agreed at this meeting in Lisdoonvarna, held on the 26th of June (minutes of the meeting) that a working group should be set up to explore and define an appropriate ecotourism model for the Burren. It was also agreed that the group would be composed of 50% representative of relevant agencies and 50% of businesses. Nominations for the Business positions were invited through the local press.(view ad).
Fifteen nominations were received from tourism related businesses. All nominees and agency representatives attended a meeting on September 24th 2008 where the committee was elected, and agreed terms of reference, a work programme, rotation of representation and public information and meetings.
After much study and in association with Sligo IT, thirteen Burren-based businesses were presented with Certificates in Ecotourism at a ceremony in Gregans Castle Hotel, Ballyvaughan on July 28th 2009. Ecotourism lecturer James Hanrahan from Sligo IT took the participants for classes held over two days in Lisdoonvarna.
As part of the course, participants also got the opportunity to spend two days visiting businesses that had gone through the programme and are now accredited as EU Flower destinations or accredited by Greenbox.
Details of the Ecotourism Working Group