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What's an ecolodge? - a case study of ecotourism operations in Ecuador

Hagberg, Annika LU (2011) MVEM11 20111
Studies in Environmental Science
Abstract
"Executive summary

The tourism sector is today the largest business sector in the world, employing over 230 million people. It has been growing incessantly the last decades and shows no tendencies to slow down. Tourism can bring strong economic support to a developing country, but has also been pointed out as a major contributor to climate change as well as environmental degradation and pollution. A shift toward a more sustainable development of global tourism is therefore essential.

Ecotourism is a type of tourism that was first described in the 1970s, and has developed exponentially since then. A literature review paints an image of ecotourism as focusing on natural environments and aiming to be environmentally, socially and... (More)
"Executive summary

The tourism sector is today the largest business sector in the world, employing over 230 million people. It has been growing incessantly the last decades and shows no tendencies to slow down. Tourism can bring strong economic support to a developing country, but has also been pointed out as a major contributor to climate change as well as environmental degradation and pollution. A shift toward a more sustainable development of global tourism is therefore essential.

Ecotourism is a type of tourism that was first described in the 1970s, and has developed exponentially since then. A literature review paints an image of ecotourism as focusing on natural environments and aiming to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. Within ecotourism fits the more delimited ecolodge, which, according to the literature, offers accommodation and educative activities in a way that supports the local community and environment. Ecolodges thereby have the potential to push for increasing sustainability in the entire tourism sector since they can increase tourists’ awareness of sustainability issues, which will hopefully shift tourists’ demand toward more sustainable alternatives. However, research on these businesses is rare and no official definition was found in literature. Without an official definition and principles, the credibility of true ecolodges is at risk and the name can easily be misused.

To find out what an ecolodge is in practice and how an ecolodge definition could be formulated, seven tourism lodges in Ecuador were chosen as case studies. Based on the literature review, five indicators of environmental sustainability and four indicators of socioeconomic sustainability were chosen as tools to measure the seven case studies. The environmental indicators – construction, water, energy, food and waste – showed to be less prioritized in practice by the case studies, although the literature emphasized the environmental sensitivity of a theoretic ecolodge. The socioeconomic indicators – staff, local community, tourist education and certification – were stronger at the case studies, signaling that an ecolodge, according to theory and practice strives to be both environmentally and socioeconomically sustainable.

The literature review and the visits to the seven case studies showed that the nine chosen indicators of sustainability were fitting as ecolodge measures, together with nature conservation. In order to support the continued spreading and awareness of ecolodges worldwide, this thesis concludes with a suggestion for an official ecolodge definition followed by accompanying principles on environmental sensitivity and nature conservation, close connection with the local community and extensive sustainability education for staff, local inhabitants and visitors. A tourism operation would have to live up to both the definition and the principles in order to legitimately be called and ecolodge. The suggested definition is as follows:

An ecolodge strives for environmental, social and economic sustainability through tourism in or near a natural area, which conserves the local environment and supports the local communities long-term, socially and economically, and actively fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and awareness, both among its visitors as well as among the staff and local inhabitants.

The hope is that this thesis will inspire to criteria being created for each principle for a more detailed ecolodge description; that this description will be made official and spread globally; and that this will eventually result in an international certification for ecolodges. An international certification that can be adapted to the local environmental and climatological circumstances for each potential ecolodge could strengthen each operation’s credibility and market competition, increase the general awareness of tourism’s impact – positive as well as negative – on this planet, and inspire to a shift in demand toward more sustainable tourism alternatives, which thereby ultimately might influence the entire tourism sector." (Less)
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author
Hagberg, Annika LU
supervisor
organization
course
MVEM11 20111
year
type
H1 - Master's Degree (One Year)
subject
keywords
Ecolodge, ecotourism, sustainable development, Ecuador, Minor Field Study, Sida, environmental science
language
English
id
2521205
date added to LUP
2013-02-18 10:59:20
date last changed
2013-02-18 10:59:20
@misc{2521205,
  abstract     = {"Executive summary

The tourism sector is today the largest business sector in the world, employing over 230 million people. It has been growing incessantly the last decades and shows no tendencies to slow down. Tourism can bring strong economic support to a developing country, but has also been pointed out as a major contributor to climate change as well as environmental degradation and pollution. A shift toward a more sustainable development of global tourism is therefore essential.

Ecotourism is a type of tourism that was first described in the 1970s, and has developed exponentially since then. A literature review paints an image of ecotourism as focusing on natural environments and aiming to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. Within ecotourism fits the more delimited ecolodge, which, according to the literature, offers accommodation and educative activities in a way that supports the local community and environment. Ecolodges thereby have the potential to push for increasing sustainability in the entire tourism sector since they can increase tourists’ awareness of sustainability issues, which will hopefully shift tourists’ demand toward more sustainable alternatives. However, research on these businesses is rare and no official definition was found in literature. Without an official definition and principles, the credibility of true ecolodges is at risk and the name can easily be misused.

To find out what an ecolodge is in practice and how an ecolodge definition could be formulated, seven tourism lodges in Ecuador were chosen as case studies. Based on the literature review, five indicators of environmental sustainability and four indicators of socioeconomic sustainability were chosen as tools to measure the seven case studies. The environmental indicators – construction, water, energy, food and waste – showed to be less prioritized in practice by the case studies, although the literature emphasized the environmental sensitivity of a theoretic ecolodge. The socioeconomic indicators – staff, local community, tourist education and certification – were stronger at the case studies, signaling that an ecolodge, according to theory and practice strives to be both environmentally and socioeconomically sustainable. 

The literature review and the visits to the seven case studies showed that the nine chosen indicators of sustainability were fitting as ecolodge measures, together with nature conservation. In order to support the continued spreading and awareness of ecolodges worldwide, this thesis concludes with a suggestion for an official ecolodge definition followed by accompanying principles on environmental sensitivity and nature conservation, close connection with the local community and extensive sustainability education for staff, local inhabitants and visitors. A tourism operation would have to live up to both the definition and the principles in order to legitimately be called and ecolodge. The suggested definition is as follows: 

An ecolodge strives for environmental, social and economic sustainability through tourism in or near a natural area, which conserves the local environment and supports the local communities long-term, socially and economically, and actively fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and awareness, both among its visitors as well as among the staff and local inhabitants.

The hope is that this thesis will inspire to criteria being created for each principle for a more detailed ecolodge description; that this description will be made official and spread globally; and that this will eventually result in an international certification for ecolodges. An international certification that can be adapted to the local environmental and climatological circumstances for each potential ecolodge could strengthen each operation’s credibility and market competition, increase the general awareness of tourism’s impact – positive as well as negative – on this planet, and inspire to a shift in demand toward more sustainable tourism alternatives, which thereby ultimately might influence the entire tourism sector."},
  author       = {Hagberg, Annika},
  keyword      = {Ecolodge,ecotourism,sustainable development,Ecuador,Minor Field Study,Sida,environmental science},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {What's an ecolodge? - a case study of ecotourism operations in Ecuador},
  year         = {2011},
}