Is Ecotourism far too bloody upmarket?

In a discussion group I follow on sustainable tourism, one of the members stated asked, “Ecotourism is far too bloody upmarket.  How can we get ‘the message’ to the average person?” The following is my response which I thought worthy of republishing on Playa Viva’s blog.

Peter, I was listening to the news this morning and one of the stories was about how the boat operators will need to “recalibrate” the number of passengers allowed on boats due to the US Coast Guard changing the average weight of an American from 160 lbs. to 185 lbs. So when you ask the question about EcoTourism for the Average person, we have to take into account the changing nature and values of that average person. The “average person” is someone who is using up a significantly larger percentage of the world resources, overweight, out of shape, paying way too much for healthcare and looking for a “holiday” that allows them to indulge these values. The irony in the “recalibration” exercise, I hope, is not lost on anyone.

I think we need to see a change in the “average person” as the first step in the process of not being too “bloody upmarket.” What do I mean by this? Take Walmart, they were once the corporate bad boys, underpaying women vs. men, accused of ruining downtowns, not providing healthcare and not being green or sustainable. Now, this is all changing and sustainability is the most heard word in Bentonville (Walmart’s HQ). How did this happen? Walmart realized that sustainability was good for business.

I don’t know if you all remember that in the US (sorry for being Ameri-centric), we used to litter our streets and highways like you see in many developing nations. That all changed in the 1970’s. Some attribute it to the “Crying Indian” commercial, but whatever the cause, this country has evolved, it went through a cultural evolution and now it is just plain “uncool” to pollute.

The values of ecotourism are values on how to live with a smaller footprint. These are values that take cultural shifts to become mainstream. So just as Walmart has changed and we have seen cultural shifts on habits like not poluting our highway, I’m sure that the market will move at a cultural pace towards this “new normal”, where we all live lighter on the planet, in harmony with nature and when ecotourism and sustainable tourism will become the norm. Why, because just like Walmart and just like littering our highways, the not doing so is unsustainable.

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