Granted licenses have notably included for the UAE’s royal family to conduct private hunting trips, with an airship specially built for them. The two safari business companies that are implicated, one from the US and another from the UAE, deny the accusations. It has been a couple of decades now that Maasai villages have contested land sales, which would have been completed without their consent. Beyond the inequity of such practices, the reports states that the safari business leads to biodiversity loss, as hunting constitutes one of the main proposed attractions. Cases of animal kills regularly agitates the Internet and the media, such as the recent story of the US dentist who killed “Cecil the Lion”, one of the most treasured animals in Zimbabwe. Such customs question the appropriateness and the sustainability of this economic activity, in a time of “biological annihilation”. It may be also noted that such a business most of the time requires long-distance flights, which generates important carbon emissions, aggravates climate change and eventually threatens ecosystems’ stability.
Not all ecotourism initiatives are so exposed to criticism. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”, and in that sense, the practices described below could not be included in that definition. By the way, the organization proposes certification programs in order to distinguish genuine ecotourism and sustainable tourism businesses from others that would make empty claims. There are examples that are considered as successful, such as in Kenya, or in Costa Rica where nature conservation has become a national leitmotiv. However, even in such an advanced nature-conserving country, ecotourism as an economic pillar remains a matter of debate, as there is always a tension between the capacity of ecosystems to admit visitors – that always constitute a kind of perturbation – and the sector profitability, that may lead operators to build bigger and more comfortable infrastructures, which in turn can put a pressure on ecosystems. The sustainability of this business will be at the cost of a strong limitation in its development. It should also be noted that a vast ecotourism sector often constitutes a disruption for local economic activities.
In any case, the question of the transportation remains central: the increase of human flows around the world has always played an important role in environmental perturbation. This was illustrated in the past by the diffusion of invasive species, which have been devastating in many places, and today by climate change (transport accounting for 20% of the CO2 emissions coming from fuel combustion). In particular, if we consider the carbon emissions budgets rich countries may allow themselves to consume with the view of a more or less stabilized-climate world, there is little development to expect for the ecotourism sector, except from local visitors that would not need to cross half of the globe to come.
As a reminder, the United Nations General Assembly adopted 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
Hadrien Lantremange, Analyst – Source: Beyond Ratings