Accountability and transparency in any endeavor make for success, along with solid planning and experienced management. In the case of ecotourism, the right mix of these ingredients can lead to economic development and sustainable growth for local populations.
However, the ideas of accountability and transparency are not always easy to get across to those involved in a project, even in the most open democratic society. As ecotourism expands, industry watchers will learn that not every country that promotes and benefits from ecotourism is democratic or capitalist. The differing ideologies and political structures of these countries may stand in the way of the development of good ecotourism practices.
Most countries, no matter the government structure, welcome the economic benefits that come with establishing holiday resorts in good locations. In fact, economic benefits in the form of new jobs and more government revenue are a prime motivation for introducing tourism or any other industry to a region of the country. Beyond this economic inducement however, accountability and transparency can suffer, as a select few individuals gain the most from the projects and don't want the general public to know it.
The incentive is strong to invite ecotourism as a growing industry, especially in countries that are experiencing poverty conditions among a significant portion of the population. The prospect of economic benefits may move government leaders to use this industry as a tool to alleviate poverty, while resource conservation and cultural preservation are lost in the shuffle.
Government and financial “movers and shakers" in countries around the world put strong emphasis on economic activity, expecting new jobs and new projects to pull the population out of any problem situations. But expecting so much of pure economic activity, in the form of revenue from tourism, is not the answer to the larger question.
Instead, these government leaders should ask what could be done to realize benefits across the board, from the economy to natural resources, from social interaction to cultural heritage. Balance is the key to success in most every project and ecotourism is no different. No particular factor or interest group should dominate the discussion or take more than a reasonable share of the new revenue generated by ecotourism. This is true anywhere, from Bendiorm, Spain to Alaska.
Of course, this is where accountability and transparency fit in. While it would be impossible to move tourism programs without taking government interests into account, those government agencies must realize that interference is not the same as involvement. As these projects are planned and started, all person involved must be willing to work with the right values in mind. If this does not happen, the host country may find that disruptive influences creep into the process. These factors may do more than slow down the progress of an otherwise excellent project. The wrong influences can destroy any chance of a good ecotourism project's survival.
Planners and developers, from government agencies and private companies, must put solid policies in place first, and adhere to these guidelines. Understanding where culture and natural resources fit into the process is critical to the success of any ecotourism project. Holding government leaders and project developers accountable is a required step as well. If there is the necessary accountability and transparency during the project's lifetime, all involved should see long-term benefits.
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