The Environmental Tourist
Increasing concern for the environment has led to a new way for people to experience the natural world. Ecotourism, also know as sustainable travel or green travel, is becoming one of the largest global industries.
That’s a good thing, right? Not entirely, according to Robin Andersen, Ph.D., Fordham University professor of communication and media studies, who is studying the effects of ecotourism on the environment.
“Most wildlife tourism is unregulated and unmonitored. Most tour operators are not wildlife or habitat specialists and most tourists don’t know the impact of their wildlife encounters,” said Andersen. “Let’s figure out a way to change attitudes and behaviors so that tourists will really want to preserve the environment or save animals, not just go and have a thrill ride into the animals’ habitats.”
Her goal is to design materials that will increase tourists’ involvement in wildlife conservation efforts. She has already developed models to describe why tourists seek such excursions in the first place.
In the “edutainment” model, tourists seek recreation, fun and entertainment with some information. In the extreme action model, they seek danger and an adrenaline rush at the expense of wildlife, such as speeding past sea lion colonies in banana boats. There is also the snorkel/dive model and healing/therapy model, both of which could use wildlife encounters more effectively to inspire tourists to become more knowledgeable about animals and their habitats.
Andersen pointed to the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Belize as an excellent example of a positive ecotourism
model. There, wildlife is encountered in the context of conservation and community development. Information about the species and threats to the animals is conveyed to tourists. More importantly, the local community is involved, she said.
“A private conservationist came in and asked local farmers who were cutting down trees to leave some trees up so that howler monkeys have a habitat,” Andersen said.
“It worked. So now the locals have created more sustainable agricultural practices, the howler monkeys have a habitat and tourists can come in and enjoy all of it while leaving it intact. Everyone wins.”