Think about the places where you've vacationed. Did you drive, fly or take a cruise? Where did you go? Disneyland, London, the Caribbean? Travelers spend a lot of time and effort planning and mapping out their vacations. We read guidebooks, Web sites, and travel magazines - all in an effort to create the most enjoyable experience possible. But did you ever stop to think about the impact that your favorite tourist attractions have on local environments? What about your own impact?
According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), tourism is one of the most
important economic and cultural phenomena of the 20th century and countries can't afford to ignore that. With a spectacular landscape filled with some of the most trumpeted wildlife in the world, Botswana has embraced tourism, particularly wildlife viewing. Nature tourism is the country's third biggest industry, and the government has done well to moderate the pace of growth by targeting high-end excursions that would limit the potential for mass tourism.
||"Cultural conservation is often implied in the concept of ecotourism"|
But nature tourism by itself is not without impact. As awareness of environmental issues grows, discriminating tourists are demanding environmentally responsible tourist destinations. "Ecotourism" is responsible travel that promotes the conservation of nature and sustains the well-being of local people. Carefully planned and implemented tourism development can play an important role in conservation while simultaneously creating a local economy that values the protection of natural as well as cultural heritage. By creating direct links between the economic benefits of ecotourism and the protection of biodiversity, researchers have found that people who earn their living from ecotourism are more likely to protect their natural resources and support conservation efforts.
It sounds like a win-win situation for everyone especially in the places where CI works. By creating an economy that necessarily relies on the health of the ecosystem, it sounds like a perfect solution. Though, some experts argue that ecotourism destinations crop up in locations that are particularly fragile. They worry that small enterprises eventually balloon into mass tourism destinations that would ultimately destroy these environments. Further, they argue that insular destinations that cater to tourists, such as resorts and theme parks, are more sustainable since environmental impacts are confined to a smaller area.
For Botswana, with few natural resources and desert conditions throughout most of the country, it is hard to argue that sharing the ecology of the Okavango Delta with tourists is not a good economic plan, particularly when the government appears to recognize the value of ecotourism.
Gudigwa, a Model Ecoproject?
Ecotourism projects like Gudigwa set out to minimize the environmental, cultural and economic impacts caused by other types of tourism. Because the attraction at Gudigwa is primarily to highlight a culture rich in respect for nature, following the lead of the Bukakhwe put organizers on the right track from the start.
"The bucket showers
are not to be missed."
The primary environmental impacts of tourism come from the construction of facilities (accommodations) and infrastructure (electricity and water). Habitat loss from these activities threatens the very reason why a facility is built. When Sharon Safran and the Bukakhwe Cultural Conservation Trust (BCCT) worked on the plan for Gudigwa, they chose traditional building methods that greatly decreased the need to chop down trees and level land. Guests stay in one of eight thatched huts made out of tall grasses found in the bush. When thatched properly, the huts are cool on the inside and completely waterproof even though no chemicals were applied to protect them. When selecting a site for the camp, they intentionally chose a shady spot - a respite from the hot Africa sun. In addition, the village has agreed to set aside the land for the camp along with surrounding areas instead of using it for ranching and farming.
Very little electricity is consumed at Gudigwa, and what they use comes from solar panels located around the camp. The solar panels charge battery cells that, in turn, power lights for the camp. For water, a bore was drilled in order to tap an underground source. Because the water comes from the ground, it is perfectly safe to use without chemical treatments. To minimize its usage, bathing water is brought to the guests in buckets, heated and ready to use. Because the Gudigwa experience is basically scripted from the moment a guest arrives, the staff know when a shower is needed. Advertised as a highlight of bush living, the bucket showers are not to be missed.
Another environmental concern for any tourist destination is waste management. In the remote locations where nature tourism flourishes, poor waste management can be a devastating pressure. At Gudigwa, whatever cannot be recycled or is not biodegradable is flown to Maun where it can be properly disposed.
Cultural conservation is often implied in the concept of ecotourism, particularly since many forms of tourism focus on scenic destinations or specific activities. Even when travelers visit cultural monuments, they rarely get to know the people who built them. In Botswana, this is particularly true since most visitors come for one thing, the wildlife. Most tourists hardly see locals, much less get to know their culture. The Gudigwa camp aims to change all of that.
By showcasing the local culture for camp guests, a support industry churns in the background that brings promising economic options for villagers. From builders to artisans, even those not employed directly at the camp benefit from its presence. In a more typical scenario, tourism puts demands and strains on the local infrastructure, but at Gudigwa it celebrates what the village can offer.
And because the camp is locally owned and operated by the BCCT, Gudigwa answers to a very important economic concern - money spent at Gudigwa stays there. Even in developed countries, economists estimate that as much as 90 percent of tourism dollars trickle back to the countries of origin because foreign companies often own hotels, airlines, tour operators, and even restaurants. Local enterprises ensure that income is redistributed where it is needed most.
Plan Your Next Vacation Responsibly
When planning your next vacation, consider an ecotourism destination. CI's Ecotourism website, www.ecotour.org. profiles many of CI's ecotourism projects around the world.
Roe, Dilys, Nigel Leader-Williams, and Barry Dalal-Clayton. "Take Only Photographs, Leave Only Footprints: the Environmental Impacts of Wildlife Tourism." IIED Wildlife and Development Series No.10 (October 1997).
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