, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 579-600

The role of ecotourism in conservation: panacea or Pandora’s box?

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Abstract

Does ecotourism contribute towards conservation of threatened species and habitats or is it just a marketing ploy of the tourism industry? Using 251 case studies on ecotourism from the literature, I looked at the distribution of case studies over continents, habitats and flagship species types and what factors influenced whether an ecotourism regime was perceived as ecologically sustainable by authors. Over 50% of ecotourism case studies were reported from Africa and Central America. The overall distribution of ecotourism case studies did not reflect vertebrate endemism, nor overall tourism distribution in terms of tourist numbers and receipts. There were significant differences between continents and habitats with regard to the proportion of sustainable case studies: ecotourism is perceived to be less sustainable in South America and Asia, and in island and mountain habitats. The type of flagship species also influenced whether ecotourism was classified as sustainable or not: ecotourism with no flagship species was rarely classified as sustainable while charismatic bird and mammal species were associated with a higher probability of sustainability. In a multivariate analysis, flagship species type and local community involvement were important predictors of sustainability in ecotourism. Detailed a priori planning, local involvement and control measures were perceived by authors of case studies to increase the success of ecotourism in conservation. They also perceived that ecotourism can only be an effective conservation tool under certain conditions. If these are met, the evidence indicates that ecotourism can make a contribution to conservation.