Due to advances in transportation and communication technology, an increase in disposable incomes and leisure times in Western Europe, North America (Choi & Sirakaya, 2006; Hall & Muller, 2005; Momsen, 2005; Mowfort & Munt, 2003; Smith, 2005), North-East and South-East Asia, and the globalization of capitalism (Mowfort & Munt, 2003), the tourism industry has grown to become the fourth largest economic sector globally, with 806 million tourist arrivals and international tourism receipts estimated at US$ 680 billion in 2005 - representing an annual growth rate of 5.5% (WTO, 2006). Hence, tourism constitutes the most important sector of the host countries’ economy in terms of employment and Gross Domestic Product (Weaver, 2006). Despite some economic benefits from tourism, the tourism industry has had significant impacts on host communities in terms of economic, social, and cultural effects (Weaver, 2006). Furthermore, as numerous studies indicate, tourism activities have also had significant environmental impacts leading to destruction of sensitive ecosystems (Baldwin, 2000; Buchan, 2000), wetland degradation (Baldwin, 2000; Buchan, 2000), depletion of freshwater resources (Buchan, 2000; Conway, 2004), beach erosion (Baldwin, 2000; Buchan, 2000), and coral reef damage (Buchan, 2000). At the same time, tourism is dependent on preserving and maintaining natural and cultural resources, since these constitute the main reason for travelling to exotic destinations (Gunn, 2002). Alternatives forms of tourism, such as ecotourism, is the most rapidly growing segment of tourism industry. In contrast to mass tourism, alternative tourism is commonly viewed as more sustainable since it operation on a smaller scale and often engages in minimizing, or even confronting social and/or environmental impacts (Weaver, 2006).
Whether for business or for pleasure, international travel has been steadily growing in volume and value over the past six decades (WTO, 2006). However, intensification of tourism is also correlated with negative impacts including environmental degradation, inequitable distribution of economic benefits, and exploitation of traditional cultures (Weinberg, Bellows, & Ekster, 2002; West & Carrier, 2004). The emergence of "new" or "alternative" forms of tourism has often been viewed as a response to the negative consequences of mass tourism at popular destinations (Clarke, 1997). Alternative tourism is an umbrella term used to describe several types of specialized travel. This may include travel to environments typically untouched by mass tourism, such as wilderness areas and poor rural communities, or participation in particular activities such as adventure sports or volunteering. Alternative tourism is conceptualized as a shift to more sustainable forms of leisure travel that address the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural impacts of tourism (Weaver, 2005; Weaver, 2006). Whereas mass tourism is large-scale, impersonal, and unsustainable, alternative tourism is, in principle, small-scale, personalized, and sustainable (Mowforth & Munt, 2003). While the premise of alternative tourism is laudable, the implication that it is a panacea for all of mass tourism's ills has been challenged. Rather than being a distinct remedy, alternative tourism creates many of the same environmental and socio-cultural impacts, such 'as economic leakage and an inequitable distribution of benefits. These may be less discernable only because they exist on a smaller scale (Butler, 1992; Weinberg et al., 2002). Furthermore, successful alternative tourism ventures may slowly transform into mass tourism enterprises or act as a precursor for the latter (Weaver, 2006). Rather than being a righteous surrogate to mass tourism, it may be argued that alternative tourism merely encompasses newly lucrative forms of tourism driven by increasing demand for customized and flexible special interest...