Eco- Tourism ...how a community benefits
By: Kofi Akpabli
At the time the whole world is singing from the climate change song sheet, advocates of eco-tourism would be humming in self- congratulation. And deservedly so.
Based on the careful harnessing of nature and culture, ecotourism has become a win-win development model. For communities that are lucky to have ecotourism resources the potential can be mouth watering.
The reason for embracing eco- tourism is the recognition of the direct relation between poverty and its effects on the environment.
People in dire need are known to subject the environment to all forms of abuse to just be able to survive.
In its finest sense, ecotourism set out to alleviate poverty in rural areas and to create sustainable income generating activities.
Also important is the strategy to conserve delicate and sensitive ecological and cultural resources.
For a country like Ghana, treating the ecotourism path is a matter of “fufu dropping into soup.” Going eco is alto backed by the fact that Ghana’s tourism products are mostly based on nature and culture.
The question that readily comes to mind is what has Ghana been offering all along? The country’s tourism product had not been that different from the past. Considering the fact that ecotourism itself is a 1980’s development, what Ghana has done adopting it is to rediscover a paradigm that very much suits her aspirations and resources.
The community Based Ecotourism Project (CBEP) which started in Ghana in 1996 ushered a dozen communities across country to embark on the drive, It is important to note that the CBEP has today set up the Ghana Rural Ecotourism and Travel Office (GREET) initiative which is central office that links all eco sites for effective marketing. Funded by (USAID) the CBEP project was an opportunity to redefine priorities. In concept as in actualization, the model involved the participation of local communities. Selected sites boast of unique natural attractions against the backdrop of idyllic rural communities.
The attractions arranges from picturesque views of landscapes, lush green vegetation and waterfalls to hikes through tropical forests, mountain climbing, encounters with endangered species of monkeys, crocodile, hippos and elephants.
While some communities are doing well with ecotourism others seem to be lost. They spend much energy on petty disputes over revenue allocation and the keeping of accounts.
However, the real challenge for them should be to learn the ropes on how to maintain and improve upon the attractive of their sites. Another concern is how to package and sell out the tourism product.
Benefiting from ecotourism depends on a community’s ability to identify its niche and work hard within the frame of best practice. All sectors of the destination must be involved in projecting the ecotourism product.
For it to run properly a community ecotourism initiative must have a management committee. This should comprise able and interest members of the community. In the case where attraction is owned by the community, the land owners must be part of the management team. Traditional rulers as well as the District Assembly must have representatives.
The formula for sharing proceeds from the attraction must be spelt out and understood by all. Where other partnering agencies exist, the nature and levels of their involvement must be defined.
But nothing can exact much attention than the tourist product itself. There must always be an eye on the attraction. Whether the ecotourism resource involves wildlife, vegetations, beach resort or a handicraft centre, care must be taken to ensure best practice. Developing the product must also have respect for the environment, the people and their culture.
For example, an ecotourism site worth its name must always have clean surroundings. Littering must not be encouraged. But littering is minimized when provision has been made for dustbins.
The conduct of visitors must be spelt out and displayed. For example, if it is about wildlife, it is important to observe the notice ‘Do not feed the animals’.
Closely related to the tourism product the issue of interpretation. What is the story behind the attraction? How has it impacted the community? What contribution has the attraction to world heritage? Interpretation is the communication of information about, or the explanation of the nature, importance and purpose of historical, natural or resources using personal or non-personal methods.
This is the main responsibility of the guide, ranger, naturalist, or curator as the case the may be. Also important is how this story is told or interpreted. On a tour, this guide has the responsibility to speak the facts without embellishment. It would be an emotional abuse to deliberately narrate in such way as to play with the emotions of the tourists. In addition, the guide must not impose personal view point. In the history behind the founding of towns there is usually more than one account. Where this is the case, all versions must be acknowledged. If there is the need translators could be employed to assist local guides.
At the site, directional signs and labels can communicate the facts of the attraction. Brochures and flyers are also useful facts of the attraction. Brochures and flyers are useful promotional tools.
One side attraction area which can create jobs is the production and sale of local artifacts. No matter what the attraction is, much money can be made from the craft trade. When tourists visit a place they are keen to take way a piece of souvenir to remind them of the experience.
For the ecotourism community handicrafts create jobs along the value chain with increase demand for production. The establishment of handcrafts villages is also a good strategy. It offers opportunity for producers and retailers to interact with tourists and find how to grow the business. As much as possible, craft items must feature symbols and motifs that reflect the values of the community.
At all cost craft items must meet the needs of the tourist in terms of functionality, colour, size, weight and packaging. Another area for job creation is the provision of meals and refreshment to tourists. If it an overnight — stay attraction simple but comfortable accommodation can be a good source of income. This can also go with the provision of meals, at least, on request.
Opportunity exists for ecotourism communities to enter into twin town partnerships. Such relationships are entered based on common features. Benefits include exchange visits as well as exchange of ideas on best practices.
While making money on investment, it would be good for an ecotourism attraction to invest in the community in which it operates. The social responsibility could be in the area of sponsoring a borehole or adopting a school. When tourists get to know this they are encouraged to spend more at the destination.
For the efforts of the ecotourism initiative to be sustainable, the role of the members of the community must never be underrated. Periodic community tourism awareness programmes must be organized to keep them involve.
Eco tourism fosters the conservation of the environment as well as the preservation of cultural resources. When implemented well, it brings sustainable income. Ultimately, the community becomes attractive and the whole society can experience the pride of firstname.lastname@example.org
The spectator Page 21, Saturday, January 16, 2010.