Sitting on my hotel balcony at Kandalama Heritance Hotel, Sri Lanka, I could think only one thing, why were there not more hotels like this?
Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (IETS, 2012). It works based on the principle that biodiversity conservation needs to pay for itself. Money generated from eco tourism is placed back in to the conservation of the environment it impacts upon.
Kandalama Heritance Hotel is a shining example of the possibilities that ecotourism can offer. Kandalama is a 5 star hotel set amongst 5 UNESCO World Heritage listed sites. The hotel engages in a number of biodiversity management strategies.
• Recycling and Re-using all waste water and by products
• Use of rain, recycled and ground water
• Invested in creating 200ha of conservation forest around the hotel sight
• Accommodate four primate species, including two that are endemic to the area
• Invasive plant removal
• Run this within the concept of an Adaptive Management style framework
Source: Heritance Hotel
The cohesiveness between the hotel and its environment are evident upon first arrival. Large rocks protrude through foyers and walkways, tropical vines cascade down the building and primates sit side by side with humans for dinner.
At Kandalama ecotourism has been a great success and has achieved an array of biodiversity goals. The question is whether ecotourism has a role to play in large-scale biodiversity conservation.
The first draw back of ecotourism is the limited range of ecosystems that can be represented. Some high value ecosystems, including closed rainforests and high mountains, are not areas feasible for ecotourism. Difficulty of access, susceptibility to damage and the elusive nature of wildlife make some areas inappropriate for ecotourism (Kiss, 2004, pp. 233).
There is often a presumption that by engaging in ecotourism we are not damaging the environment. However, by creating the infrastructure necessary for ecotourism we are altering the natural state of the ecosystem (Kiss, 2004, pp. 233). Many ecotourism programs alter the natural state of the ecosystem to benefit high value species; this is to attract more tourists.
The last issue is the mean size of biodiversity conservation areas, set aside by ecotourism projects (Kiss, 2004, pp. 233). The high cost associated with creating reserve areas, coupled with the fact most are privately funded, equates to generally small conservation areas.
Back on the balcony in Kandalama, sipping gin and tonics, surrounded by an array of foreign wildlife, I couldn’t help but feel I was a part something amazing. This is what ecotourism provides: a sense of well-being, education on biodiversity and an opportunity to engage ecosystems on a different level. Despite its inherently good aspects the role it has to play in biodiversity conservation is small. The high cost involved creates small biodiversity conservation areas. This fact, coupled with the fact that it is a niche market of tourists that are both interested and willing to engage in it, means we shouldn’t be pinning our conservation hopes on it.
References & Further Reading
International Eco Tourism Society (2012). What is Ecotourism? The International Ecotourism Society, Accessed at .
Naidoo, R., & Adamowicz, W., (2005). Biodiversity and nature-based tourism at forest reserves in Uganda. Environment and Development Economics, Vol. 10 (2), pp. 159 – 178.
Kiss, A., (2004). Is community-based ecotourism a good use of biodiversity conservation funds? Trends In Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 19 (5),, pp. 232- 237.
Heritance Hotel (2013). Environment Conservation. Accessed at <http://www.heritancehotels.com/kandalama/green-philosophy/environment-conservation.html>