Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 26
ENVIRONMENTAL conservation cannot be the sole driver of eco-tourism, according to Megan Epler Wood, Principal Consultant, Epler Wood International. Instead, eco-tourism initiatives must be driven by the `triple bottomline' concept that focuses on conservation, and also on economic and social outcomes, she adds.
While conservation must remain an important facet of any eco-tourism business, the project must also do well economically if it is to succeed, says Epler Wood who is the founder and past President of the International Ecotourism Society. Similarly, the social and cultural impacts of an eco-tourism project on local communities must also be considered, she explains.
Most successful eco-tourism initiatives are those that involve a partnership between the local community and an entrepreneur from outside, Epler Wood says. While the entrepreneur brings financial and marketing expertise, the local community provides skills required to get the project off the ground. For many years, people believed that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could play the entrepreneur's role in an eco-tourism project. But in practice, NGOs cannot replace the entrepreneur, as they are not driven by profit, she points out.
Visionary entrepreneurs, by partnering with the community, are the "engine" that makes eco-tourism work, Epler Wood emphasises.
So if the local community and the entrepreneur can agree on a set of conditions, an eco-tourism project can become a win-win for both, she adds.
However, a recent study on eco-lodges commissioned by the International Finance Corporation revealed the need for a comprehensive financing strategy suited to the requirements of the eco-tourism business, says Epler Wood.
For instance, eco-tourism entrepreneurs need a financing package that allows for longer breakeven periods. Other elements such as technology support must also form a part of financing strategies for the eco-tourism sector, she adds.
The study also revealed that eco-tourism is, in itself, not expensive, says Epler Wood. Lack of accessibility for tourists and the costs incurred in transporting food and other supplies to remote eco-lodges is what makes some of these sites expensive, she explains.
While the market for eco-tourism is not as large as it was once thought to be, there is still a lot of interest in eco-tourism, says Epler Wood.
Europe, for instance, is an un-tapped market for eco-tourism products, she adds.