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Understanding the impacts of ecotourism on biodiversity: a multiscale, cumulative issue influenced by perceptions and politics

Newsome, D. and Hughes, M. (2016) Understanding the impacts of ecotourism on biodiversity: a multiscale, cumulative issue influenced by perceptions and politics. In: Geneletti, D., (ed.) Handbook on biodiversity and ecosystem services in impact assessment. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, pp. 276-298.

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In this chapter, we explore the complex character of ecotourism as a phenomenon and how this relates to understanding the potential impacts on biodiversity. We consider the importance of biodiversity in identifying natural places as ecotourism attractions and the role ecotourism plays in the conservation of biodiversity. Ecotourism, however, is not without risks in regard to disturbing wildlife and damaging the environment. Positive and negative impacts are therefore identified but the nature of these impacts varies according to the type of ecotourism activities and how the tourism operators meet the tourists’ expectations. We will take the view that ecotourism is a specific type of tourism and that, perhaps unlike many other forms of tourism, has an overall positive impact on biodiversity. This is despite that fact that there may be real and recognizable deleterious impacts occurring as a result of tourism development and activities. We are, however, of the view that in comparison to many of the existing threats to biodiversity, ecotourism has the potential for positive outcomes.

The type and severity of environmental impacts are also influenced by political and socio-economic factors that apply in the areas in which the biodiversity occurs. Protected areas, such as national parks, play a vital role in conserving biodiversity and tourism is considered an encouragement for public engagement with conservation that is regarded as central to the role of parks themselves. Protected area managers have an active role to play in understanding what ecotourism is and in promoting sustainable tourism. This is achieved according to the application of different management strategies such as the provision and maintenance of visitor facilities, controlling where tourists go and what they do and in the provision of educational programmes. The potential negative impacts of tourism on biodiversity often interact with wider landscape-level impacts. Such impacting factors that are derived from the landscape matrix include the presence of pest animals, weeds and human-related activities that compromise biodiversity conservation. Acknowledging that impact assessment can include wider environmental and social issues this chapter focuses on the biodiversity aspects of impact assessment. Accordingly, we conclude this chapter with an exploration of the implications for impact assessment in regard to the complex characteristics of ecotourism and their interaction with biodiversity. This will be achieved by examining the case of the ecotourism–conservation nexus associated with iconic species such as gorillas in Africa. Overall we consider the need to understand the positive and negative impacts of ecotourism on biodiversity at various scales and levels of socio-political complexity. In doing so we unravel the role of people’s and institutional perceptions of what is regarded as an impact and the cumulative effects of a number of land uses and human activities, of which tourism is only one, on biodiversity.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Edward Elgar
Copyright: © Davide Geneletti 2016
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