This entire week I was reflecting on ecotourism experiences I have encountered outside of New Zealand and it is interesting to compare them to the operations I have observed in my study abroad experience. Over last summer, I was in Ecuador doing a variety of tourism activities involving the natural environment, from horseback riding in the mountains of Chugchilan to zip-lining through the rainforest of Banos.
In Ecuador, there is much less consideration for the environmental impact of businesses. There are certainly some sustainable ecotourism operations (meaning those that are culturally appropriate and economically and environmentally sustainable). For example, I stayed at a lovely lodge called the Black Sheep Inn that was incredibly sustainable. They used only locally-produced food to feed guests, facilitated nature walks through the mountains, and incorporated in-ground gardens directly into rooms and bathrooms.
This type of ecotourism was the exception and not the norm in Ecuador though. I saw far more tourism businesses that left a negative environmental impact with no regret. For example, guided hikes that involved transportation from a hostel to a hike always included me riding in the back of a pickup truck that certainly was not clean burning or fuel efficient. Roads and paths to get to hikes were messily made and caused destruction and fragmentation of habitats. Even transportation to and from tourism destinations involved riding in busses and cars that were clearly not running cleanly or efficiently.
It is memories like these that make me appreciate ecotourism operations in New Zealand. Compared to what I saw in Ecuador, New Zealand is much more pressured to offer environmentally sustainable and minimal-impact ecotourism because of its ‘green’ image. New Zealand is well known as an environmentally sustainable country with beautifully preserved natural areas, which is why it has a booming tourism operation.
There are still many issues with ecotourism in New Zealand, such as the isolation of the country from other nations that contributes to a high number of miles that tourists must fly to get there, which involves the use of materials and massive amounts of CO2 emissions. Despite this, I believe that New Zealand is one of the leaders in maintaining an ecotourism industry that is truly sustainable. One example was Encounter Kaikoura, an ecotourism operation that gave people the chance to experience albatross and whale watching and swimming with wild dolphins in a non-harmful way. They not only make an effort to meet their environmental standards, but go above and beyond those standards to set their own limits and provide resources to relevant research relating to the natural resources they rely upon. For example, they helped pass legislation that limited the number of times businesses could take tourists to see and swim with the dolphins around Kikoura. They did this because they understood that disruption of the dolphins’ daily cycles would hurt the dolphins and therefore their own business.
This realization of Encounter Kaikoura summarizes why environmental sustainability in Ecotourism is so vital: Ecotourism operations are dependent on the environment as their money-maker and should therefore be the number one advocate against the exploitation and degradation of the natural areas they rely upon (especially concerning their own use of those resources).