Staff Reporter

To understand Africa’s ecotourism it is necessary to understand the continent’s history. Despite is varied and many unique resources of fauna and flora, the continent was ravaged by war and unstable political systems.

By the eighties, many species across the continent were on the verge of extinction and misunderstanding by indigenous people hampered international efforts to save Africa’s wildlife. Poaching and smuggling brought the mountain gorilla in East Africa to the lowest population ever.

But thanks to Jane Goodall and her stellar work among gorillas saw eco tours to view these animals in their natural habitat sky rocket. Africa, with all its natural resources, became a favourite among international travellers and a lucrative business was born which benefitted local populations.

Today, various tour operators provide many responsible travel options in their itineraries. National parks added millions to the tourism coffers of African governments. Coupled with hikes, luxury tours and indigenous food with environmentally friendly accommodation saw the global ecotourism market in Africa adding many benefits to poor communities.

Education is always high on the agenda of any ecotourism venture, offering travellers the opportunity to not only increase their knowledge but also to contribute to preservation efforts.

African ecotourism functions as a way to keep tourist money in the local economy while preserving the environment and culture. Learning about the indigenous people of the continent, provides the Western world with an understanding of what otherwise would be regarded as obstacles.

Eco-tourism benefits local people who, in turn learn that by preserving the eco system, poverty can be alleviated. In Africa, ecotourism sees the communities across the continent as an integral part in the success of this fast growing industry.

Ecotourism in Africa is a continuously developing industry. As an early leader in the movement which has seen travellers looking for more than just luxury hotels and overcrowded beaches, Africa’s ecotourism is based on goal-oriented activities. Tourists come to Africa expecting to see wildlife in their natural habitat and learn about the continent’s interesting indigenous people and their cultures. Instead of a passive safari-type tour, African ecotourism strives to involve the traveller in the community. At the same time, education and protection of the environment is of paramount importance.

As adventurous travellers wanted something totally different from a standard sea-sun-and-sand vacation, they rejected mass provision of package trips, looking for the pristine and the authentic. Eco-tourism had become one of the ways the green sensitivities of affluent westerners manifest themselves and Africa is benefitting from it.

According to the International Eco-tourism Society, eco-tourism combines travel to natural areas with principles of sustainability, conservation and direct benefits to local people.

Martha Honey, a co-founder and co-director of the Martha Honey, a co-founder and co-director of the Centre for Ecotourism and Sustainable Development and author of Ecotourism and Sustainable Development, considers ecotourism to focus on minimising impact, building environmental awareness, providing benefits to conservation and local people while respecting local culture and supporting human rights.

One of the main aims of ecotourism is to reduce the environmental impact of mass tourism and its often resource-heavy, infrastructure. This impact reduction focuses on using locally available, often traditional and recycled materials and supporting environmentally sound infrastructure designs fitting into the traditions and sensibilities of local culture. Minimising impact also means controlling numbers and acceptable behaviours of tourists. These efforts could range from limiting traffic on national park trails to controlling the numbers of game shot during community-run hunting expeditions. Another way to lessen tourism impact is use of renewable energy and careful disposition of waste. Eco-tourism is about respecting local communities and traditions, to alleviate the exploitive aspects of leisure travel and to benefit, rather than damage, these communities.

Ecotourism teaches, entertains and provides travellers with an opportunity to relax while adhering to environmental and cultural customs. The cultural exchange important to ecotourism should involve sensitivity and balance. In many situations, traditions function as exotic backdrop for tourists, with locals compelled toward primitive efforts for the benefit of authenticity-seeking tourists.

The support of the United Nations (UN) for adventure travel, in conjunction with ecotourism or sustainable tourism, had assisted many poor African areas. It provided a sustainable income to combat poverty and environmental degradation. The UN is a proponent of ecotourism to positively transform people, environments and economies.

According to the UN’s E-Tourism Initiative highlights the economic benefits of this growing tourism sector. This creates opportunities for local and outside investment to support a particular economy. Tour operators are providing a further service by the employing the local population.

The possibility of gainful employment also increases interest in education. Additionally, exposure to adventure travellers presents opportunities for locals to project new, positive personal and community images.

According to the International Union to Conserve Nature, the biggest challenge is to create effective, measurable conservation incentives based on goods and services provided by ecosystems for communities to benefit directly as good stewards of natural resources. Local resources, valuable for the tourism-related benefits they provide, suddenly have lasting worth as protected, sustainable resources as well as justification for land use regulation and other conservation practices.