International Conference on 

Ecotourism in Protected Areas 

Strengthening Livelihoods, Conservation, and Adaptation

19–21 May 2015

Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar

General Information

Ecotourism is a form of responsible travel that takes place in and around natural areas and intends to contribute to conservation and enhance the livelihoods of the local people. Flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions. An important element of ecotourism is the intention to foster appreciation for natural and cultural heritage among hosts and visitors through interpretation. 

The International Ecotourism Society recognizes that ecotourism activities should adopt the following principles:

  1. Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
  2. Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  3. Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  4. Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  5. Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
  6. Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
  7. Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
  8. Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

Ecotourism is often invoked as a way to serve both conservation ends and support local livelihoods and promote economic development. The concept of ecotourism has been pursued since the 80s as a model for responsible travel to vulnerable natural areas to benefit local people and contribute to conservation goals. The benefits provided by ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots are widely recognized, including preservation of key species and their habitat, natural water filtration, carbon sequestration, etc. Through this, protected areas contribute to climate change mitigation and protection from natural disasters. Hence, protected areas have clear functions. Although these are recognized, their benefits remain poorly understood and protected areas are under enormous pressure from growing demands of human economies. The expense of preserving and maintaining protected areas is often enormous. 

Ecotourism comes into this picture as financial contribution to the protected area management (e.g. through park and visitor centre entrance fees), and stimulate an increased understanding of the benefits of conservation areas. Protected areas offer people a ‘buffer zone’ from their daily life, as nature is an appealing environment to relax, experience adventure and focus on spirituality. Moreover, ecotourism also offers an alternative livelihood option for local people living in and around protected areas, diversifying or even replacing their traditional dependency on natural resources. 

However, ecotourism has also proven to bring challenges. Tourism operations within natural areas need to be carefully planned, managed and monitored in order to ensure their long-term sustainability and prevent negative impacts that would contribute to the deterioration of the area’s ecosystems and biodiversity rather than their conservation. An integrated management approach is hence recommended. 

Rapidly increasing effects of climate change are calling for the ecotourism approach to be reviewed. Of all the issues faced by destinations, mountain and coastal areas in particular, climate change is said to be one of the most serious with likely the greatest long-term impact. At the same time, tourism also brings enormous opportunities to inspire positive action, such as climate-friendly operational management systems and strategies, and engaging travelers in awareness programs. Hence we need to rethink the model of genuine ecotourism, to enhance the contribution of protected areas to global climate change mitigation strategies.