Tourism is the fastest growing industry in Australia with the majority of growth occurring in natural areas (Dowling and Charters, 2000). Now more than ever, people are becoming aware that the world’s natural resources are finite with previously pristine, natural environments shrinking at an alarming rate. Ironically, as our interests in these areas grow, they seem to be disappearing. Therein lays the challenge: how to manage a tourism industry to the most ecologically sensitive natural areas of the world, which are the most sensitive to outside entities, whilst ensuring sustainability? There has been extensive research into this question, with many case studies conducted and opinions from experts given over the decades. Research seems to indicate that whilst environmental interpretation is effective in increasing and re-enforcing environmental knowledge both in the short and long-term, it may not be as effective in changing or influencing the behaviours and attitudes of visitors. This essay will look at environmental interpretation within ecotourism, and its effectiveness in changing or influencing the behaviour or attitudes of visitors. Firstly, definitions of ecotourism and interpretation will be provided which will set the tone for the essay. Then, two case studies involving environmental interpretation will be presented and discussed. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn in terms of the effectiveness of interpretation in relation to knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of visitors to natural areas. Ecotourism
It is interesting to note that since the beginning of the 1990’s the global ecotourism industry has been growing at the rate of 20 to 34% dependant on the country, location and type of operations. In 2004, ecotourism/nature tourism was growing globally more than three times faster than the entire tourism industry itself. It is also predicted that sustainable tourism will account for over 25% of the world’s travel within the next six years, with a boom expected in eco-type resorts and hotels with substantial gains expected by early entrants to the market (International Ecotourism Society, 2008). But what is ‘ecotourism’? Ecotourism Australia (2008), defines ecotourism as "Ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation” (http://www.ecotourism.org.au/). Dowling and Charters (2000) go further and define ecotourism as nature based tourism that is ecologically sustainable, that involves education and interpretation of the environment, whilst providing an appropriate return to the local community along with long-term conservation of the resource itself. Here, the educative and conservationist elements are characterised. As Newsome, Moore and Dowling (2002) have discussed, there are differing types of tourism, with ecotourism falling in the alternative tourism vein, the opposite of ‘Mass Tourism’. Here, there is a perception that ecotourism has a differing relationship with the tourist, where the intention is more ‘for the environmental relationship’, rather than just ‘there’ as a tourist might be at a theme park, or in a foreign country shopping mall. Newsome et al (2002), also goes on to point out that for ecotourism to be authentic, it must contain five interrelated parts which all need to be present. These include: 1.It must be nature-based;
2.Be ecologically sustainable;
3.Be environmentally educative;
4.Benefit the local community; and
5.Be able to satisfy the tourist.
With all the different definitions given, there is a common theme of ‘sustainability’ and ‘education’. In terms of ecotourism, these two factors are interdependent on each other, which ecotourism operators throughout the world rely on to achieve ecotourism certification, which is paramount to the ongoing operations of their businesses in nature-based and protected areas. Orams (2000) suggests ecotourism...