Ecotourism emerged as a popular concept in the late 1980s with the world acknowledging sustainable practices in tourism – sparked off by the idea of harmonious co-existence with nature. A Mexican environmentalist, Hector Ceballos-Lascurian initially described this nature based travel to relatively undistributed areas, as a learning endeavour. The concept today has however moved from its ‘educational escapade’ bracket into a scientific model with intensive planning, management and development of sustainable tourism products and activities. Presently, ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry.
Learning from examples world over, Jamaica may be of keen interest as it has earned a reputation of being most successful in terms of ecotourism, with 24 certified ‘Green Globe’ sites in the country. In 2009, Jamaica, with an area of about 11,000 sq km, earned more than 8 per cent of its GDP from tourism, which is 47 per cent of its total foreign exchange earnings. The ecotourism sites of Costa Rica, hosts over 1.7 million tourist visits per year, with earnings from tourism amounting to more than 1.7 billion USD per year. It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of all visitors to the country come for eco-tourism related activities. Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, with about 1000 sq km of land area, are designated as national parks, which are its eco tourism sites. Also the famous Chumbe Island Coral Park in Zanzibar, Tanzania, is a leading example of small-scale eco-tourism that manages and conserves its unique marine and terrestrial ecosystems successfully.
Lakshadweep with over 36 islands including atolls, covering an area of 32 sq km is surrounded by 4200 sq km of lagoon rich in marine wealth. A successful ecotourism model can provide a significant fillip to the livelihood options available to the islanders. With a high population pressure and very limited resources the people of Lakshadweep need to promote tourism synchronised with the carrying capacity of the islands. The islanders need to understand that ecotourism models are based on education and interpretation of their ecosystem and its sustainability would be the key to the island’s development. Ecotourism carries with it the double benefit of compatibility with nature to enhance wilderness protection and wildlife conservation along with making the local community owners in the process.
Lakshadweep hosts around 4000 tourists annually (11 tourists per day) as per the records available with the Lakshadweep Administration – a near unchanged status over two decades. In recent years tourism has in fact experienced a drop with resorts closing down due to various litigations. Needless to say, the coral based ecology of the island is highly sensitive and any development should focus on the sustainability of these resources for perpetual use and conservation. However, a viable livelihood option, ecotourism needs to be asserted aggressively among the local populace to discourage indiscriminate construction and unnecessary luxury fittings and wasteful practices. This will also reduce the regions heavy dependency on central government grants.