The term ‘ecotourism’ was coined by a marketing agency that was promoting Costa Rica as a rainforest destination and since then it has been seen as a niche market by the World Tourism Organisation, as it uses resources that are linked to the biodiversity and cultural pluralism of third world societies or countries, which have been forced into tourism as a core competency area by intergovernmental agencies for development. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines ecotourism as: “...environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features - both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations” (IUCN, 1996). The travel industry defines ecotourism as: “purposeful travel that creates an understanding of cultural and natural history, while safeguarding the integrity of the ecosystem and producing economic benefits that encourage conservation . . . The long-term survival of this special type of travel is inextricably linked to the existence of the natural resources that support it” (Bandy, 1996 quoting: Ryel and Grasse 1991:164).
The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people”.
According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) tourism that involves travelling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specified objective of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural aspects [both of the past and the present] found in these areas is defined as ecotourism. An optimum number of environment friendly visitor activities, which do not have any serious impact on the ecosystem and the local community and the positive involvement of the local community in maintaining the ecological balance are some of its key elements (UNWTO, 2002i).
With very little consensus between the industry, indigenous and local communities and other government and non-government organizations on the definition of ecotourism, it is being been touted by the industry as the wonderful antidote to the development problems of hitherto untouched areas in India. Ecotourism is today the unique selling proposition of the tourism industry and is being used to bring more and more tourists to fragile regions like the forests and coasts. With nature and culture being the prime attraction it is only logical that the Ministry for Tourism and Culture, state tourism departments and the tourism industry are selling India as an important ecotourism destination.
The hypothesis that was considered for the case study was: Newer biodiversity rich areas, under Protected Area status or otherwise, are being rapidly opened for ecotourism. In the absence of coherent policy, regulation and guidelines, current form of ecotourism has impacted biodiversity; lives and governance systems of communities. This has resulted in loss of rights and benefits arising from use of biological resources to communities. Women are particularly affected as they confront increasing problems of social evils, finding wherewithal from even distant locations and reduced say in matters that affect them.
2. Research questions
Based on the hypothesis, the following research questions were formulated: a. What are the areas that have been opened up? b. What is the status of laws, policy and guidelines for ecotourism? c. What are the impacts of ecotourism on biodiversity and community governance? d. What are the impacts on women?
For the purpose of this case study, the research questions that have been taken up pertain to areas that have been opened up for...