ECOTOURISM IMPACT MONITORING:
A Review of Methodologies and Recommendations for Developing Monitoring Programs in Latin America
ECOTOURISM TECHNICAL REPORT SERIES NUMBER 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Summary 2
Definitions of Ecotourism – box 4
Biological Monitoring – box 6
The Need for Tourism Impacts Monitoring 7
Characteristics of Protected Areas Management in Latin America 7
The Evolution of Visitor Management Methodologies 8
Methods for Reducing Negative Impacts of Tourism: 11
Guidelines and Certification – box
Monitoring and Impact Management Methodologies of Special Interest 12
Characteristics of Effective Monitoring Programs 19
Implementing an Ecotourism Impacts Monitoring Program 23
Training Needs for Conservation NGOs and Protected Areas and 29 Ecotourism Managers
Financing Monitoring Programs 30
1) Measures of Success Project Cycle 39
2) Three-tiered structure of the Tourism Optimisation
Management Model (TOMM) 40
1) A sample of potential ecotourism monitoring indicators 41
2) Potential indicators of sustainable tourism 42
3) E-mail report on monitoring in Indonesia – Bernd Cordes 45
4) E-mail report on monitoring in Nepal and India – 48
5) Additional e-mail responses about ecotourism impacts 50
monitoring initiatives – Bolivia and Australia
This publication was made possible, in part, through the support provided by the Office of Regional Sustainable
Development, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International Development, under
the terms of Grant No. EDG-A-00-01-00023-00. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the
views of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Ecotourism is one strategy for supporting conservation and providing income for communities in and around protected areas. While envisioned as a positive approach towards sustainable development, unplanned or poorly planned and implemented tourism can have serious negative effects on the environment and on communities, offsetting the benefits it was designed to provide. In order to anticipate negative impacts and to prevent or mitigate them, ecotourism impacts monitoring is required. While visitor impacts management methodologies have been developed and applied in the United States and other developed countries, little such work has been done in the developing world. And, few monitoring programs have assessed socio-cultural impacts on nearby communities. A methodology which is easy to implement on limited budgets and with limited technical expertise is needed for Latin America.
This report offers a summary of some existing visitor impacts measurement methodologies for protected areas and provides recommendations for how to establish ecotourism monitoring programs in Latin America. It is designed for use by The Nature Conservancy partner organizations but is also applicable for others involved in ecotourism throughout the world.
Initiatives to reduce the negative impacts of visitors to natural areas originated with determinations of carrying capacity and the imposition of limits to numbers of tourists. While a useful first step, this methodology proved to be overly simplistic, and better methods have since been developed. Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) is one of the most widely accepted because it is flexible, can encompass a wide variety of impacts, and calls for stakeholder participation. Other methodologies and models for impact monitoring of conservation and development projects utilize the LAC system of identifying impacts, indicators and limits or ranges of allowable change, and are useful in developing characteristics for effective monitoring programs for Latin America. Recommended attributes include the incorporation of monitoring into protected area and ecotourism management plans; participation of all stakeholders, including the local community; the need for monitoring programs to be user-friendly; and the importance that monitoring results be closely tied to management actions and outreach.
To be wholly effective, monitoring of ecotourism operations must encompass impacts of the following types: environmental, experiential (or psychological), economic, socio-cultural and managerial (or infrastructural). A recommended process for developing and implementing ecotourism monitoring has the following steps:
1) Formation of a steering committee composed of protected area managers,
ecotourism managers, local NGOs and community representatives 2) Holding a community meeting to educate residents about ecotourism impacts
and monitoring and to involve them
3) Identifying impacts and indicators to be monitored
4) Selecting methods of measurement
5) Identifying limits or ranges of acceptable change with stakeholder input 6) Developing an operational monitoring plan
7) Training of staff, managers and community representatives in monitoring
techniques, analysis of data and effecting management changes 8) Carrying out monitoring and examining data
9) Presenting monitoring results to all stakeholders
10) Evaluating the monitoring program and conducting outreach
Training needs for conservation NGOs cover general monitoring concepts, participatory planning and community outreach, sampling and measurement techniques, analysis and storage of data, impact management alternatives, and identifying support for establishing monitoring programs. Funding for monitoring must be incorporated into protected areas budgets. Income might be provided through a levy on visitor entrance fees or on tourism operators working in the area.
Ecotourism is one strategy being used in and around protected areas in developing countries for supporting conservation and providing income-generating opportunities for local peoples in rural areas. Envisioned as a positive approach towards sustainable development, ecotourism programs and destinations are springing up in natural areas around the world. However, unplanned or poorly planned and implemented tourism, erroneously called ―ecotourism,‖ can have serious negative effects on the environment and on communities, offsetting the benefits it was designed to provide. While there is abundant literature describing the negative impacts of tourism (one example which provides excellent analysis is Mathieson and Wall, 1982), there is much less information on how to measure, predict and forestall deleterious impacts.
Definitions of Ecotourism Since the term was coined in the early 1980s, there has been much discussion about what it is and how it should be defined. The
Ecotourism Society’s definition (Lindberg and Hawkins, 1993) is now
one of the most widely accepted:
responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the
environment and improves the well-being of local people
It is distinguished from nature-based tourism, which refers only
generally to tourism activity in a natural setting, and from adventure
tourism, which involves physically exerting activities in a natural setting
Several other definitions of ecotourism are worth mentioning in
order to demonstrate and emphasize the potential benefits that may be
realized. One is given by Ceballos-Lascurain (1996) of the World
Conservation Union (IUCN):
Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation
to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and
appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features –
both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low
visitor negative impact and provides for beneficially active
socio-economic involvement of local populations.
Another useful definition is provided by Martha Honey (1999):
Ecotourism is travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected
areas that strives to be low impact and (usually) small scale. It
helps educate the traveler; provides funds for conservation;
directly benefits the economic development and political
empowerment of local communities; and fosters respect for
different cultures and for human rights.
Impact monitoring, or the periodic collection and evaluation of data relative to stated goals, objectives and activities (Salafsky and Margoluis,1998), is a way to measure progress and change stimulated by conservation and development projects. When it is complemented by an evaluation and consistent modifications in management, monitoring can help to allay negative impacts (Marion and Farrell, 1998). It can measure the scale of both positive and negative effects of interventions and can be used predict future conditions. Therefore, it can be used to measure success as well as serving as a warning signal of possible dangers or problems. This report will focus on the use of monitoring for the latter, to predict and alleviate negative impacts of tourism so that the potential of ecotourism is realized without the pitfalls, as described by Boo (1990) and others who approach ecotourism with necessary caution.
The concept and practice of visitor management in protected areas has been utilized in the United States for at least 25 years. In Latin America however, the advent of nature-based tourism is relatively recent and up until recently there has been little need or incentive for developing methodologies to limit tourism impacts. Now, however, the popularity of ―eco‖-tourism in these countries is
becoming manifest, and strategies are needed to mitigate negative impacts. Application of existing methodologies, mostly developed for national parks and forests in the U.S., where budgetary and technical resources are substantial compared to their developing country counterparts, is difficult. New methodologies, which are simple, yet comprehensive enough to address the multidisciplinary features of conservation and development initiatives in developing countries, are needed.
This report is intended for The Nature Conservancy partner organizations, many of which are conservation NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to facilitate and advance responsible ecotourism. It provides background and recommendations for developing monitoring and evaluation programs which can be used locally in Latin America by a variety of stakeholders involved in ecotourism in and around protected areas. These programs are needed to periodically measure a range of environmental, socio-cultural and economic conditions which may be affected by ecotourism, and to incorporate findings into management programs in order to forestall negative impacts.
It begins with a brief justification for monitoring tourism impacts and highlights three characteristics of conservation and development programs in Latin America which address the need for reevaluating and adapting existing monitoring methodologies for successful implementation in these countries. Next is a short discussion of some existing methodologies used in developed countries, with references to more detailed treatments. Following this, several newer impact assessment methodologies are presented. They were selected because of their relevance for use or adaptation to developing countries. Several conceptualizations of socio-cultural analysis are also offered to orient this oft-neglected aspect of ecotourism impacts monitoring.
The most practical aspects of this report are the penultimate sections
providing key characteristics of effective monitoring and adaptive management,
and suggesting a process for involving a variety of local stakeholders to initiate
and implement a monitoring and evaluation program. Finally, there is an outline
of training needs for protected area and ecotourism managers, as well as some
ideas on possible funding mechanisms for monitoring programs.
While ecotourism impacts monitoring is not widespread, the field of monitoring for conservation purposes is active. Biological monitoring is the most common and can be classified into two types:
1) biodiversity monitoring, which can serve to test hypotheses
about ecosystem structure, function and composition (Noss,
2) impact monitoring, which is designed to address
management issues and can assess impacts of integrated
conservation and development projects (ICDPs) (Sisk,
1993; Kremen et al., 1994).
For the purposes of improving management of protected areas, the second type is preferred. And, to make monitoring most applicable,
monitoring should be directed towards identified threats, as opposed to biological targets. Such data collection and analysis provides information which can guide specific management decisions (Reiger, 1999a).
In Latin America, TNC’s Parks in Peril Program has developed
an ecological monitoring strategy (Shopland, 1993: TNC, 1994) and a number of Parks in Peril partners, especially in Mexico, have quite a bit of experience in development and implementation of monitoring plans (See Shopland, 1994; Reiger, 1999a). In most cases, this monitoring
has been biological and ecological in nature and has not addressed socio-cultural or economic concerns. However, many of the concepts and processes used are the same.
Another, new monitoring initiative of The Nature Conservancy,
which will eventually be applied in virtually all TNC sites worldwide, is described in Measures of Conservation Success (Reiger, 1999b). The
objective is to assess conservation impact by measuring biodiversity health (the health of selected conservation targets) and threat status
and abatement. While this methodology examines threats posed by specific actions (such as tourism), it may be difficult to directly relate the findings or scores of biodiversity health with a particular activity.
The results will rather provide a more general measurement of success, critical for assessing the ultimate goal of biodiversity conservation.
The Need for Ecotourism Impacts Monitoring
Ecotourism is often one component of conservation and development programs. At the initiation of any such program or activity, project impacts are rare or minimal. Initial symptoms of negative impacts may be difficult to perceive, especially when there is little or no data on baseline conditions to compare to. In developing countries, comprehensive baseline surveys are rarely conducted at the outset because time, budgets and technical resources are limited and the needs are not perceived. Often, it is only when severe impacts are manifested that questions are asked and management actions are deemed necessary.
As Buckley (1999) points out, once negative impacts are readily apparent, options for managing them easily are reduced. It becomes politically difficult to reduce numbers of visitors and/or limit their activities. Another alternative, ―hardening‖ the environment, or making it more resistant to impacts, requires increased budgets for infrastructure and subsequent maintenance. In some cases, management cannot compensate for the losses realized. Had impacts been measured progressively from the start and actions taken early on to reduce them, less or no harm might have occurred. The establishment of a monitoring program at the outset of project development and the gathering of baseline information allows for early warning of impending changes, enabling timely management programs to be put into place.
Characteristics of Protected Areas Management in Latin America
Before examining the range of visitor impact and management
methodologies, most of which were developed in the United States and other developed countries, it is important to recognize several characteristics which distinguish protected areas planning and management in Latin America from that in developed countries. The practical consequences of these differences as they relate to monitoring are also discussed.
1) Economic and technical resources for protected areas in Latin America
and the Caribbean are limited. Management budgets are small, staff
time is limited, and data collection, such as is required by monitoring, is
a low priority when more urgent concerns such as invasions, poaching
or forest fires are present. Park managers often do not see impact
monitoring as being useful to them and therefore may be reluctant to
spend the time or resources necessary. In addition, while park staff
available to carry out routine monitoring activities may possess keen
observational skills, advanced technical analysis of data may not be an
option. Therefore, monitoring methodologies must be simple, easy to
apply by few staff with limited training, and must provide results which
indicate specific management actions.
2) In developing countries there is often a lack of baseline data and/or
information on the impacts of tourism (Courrau, 1995). Research on
natural systems and human societies and cultures has not been
sufficient to provide accurate guidance for management activities.
However, even in situations where baseline data is difficult to obtain
and/or natural and human systems are not fully understood, it is
possible to monitor changes based on data that has been collected in
an objective, consistent manner. Adaptive management, defined as a
process developed to manage natural resources by deliberate
experimentation and systematic monitoring of the results (Margoluis
and Salafsky, 1998), can be applied. For instance, even if the
population size of a particular bird species is unknown, consistent
measurement of it in the same place using the same techniques over
time can serve as a relative measure of change. Correlations between
tourist visitation and population fluctuations can be made, and if the
relationship appears strong, measures to lessen human influence can
be taken and resultant effects analyzed.
3) Traditionally, protected areas management in the U.S. has been an
inwardly looking discipline. Parks administrators have jurisdiction and
responsibility for only what lies within or enters the park’s boundaries.
Physical and biological resources and visitor well-being have been the
priority, while people and resources outside have been of little concern.
Now, in contrast, park staff in Latin America and worldwide are
realizing that the future of their parks depend on the people who live
around them. (Borrie et al., 1998), At the same time, local
communities are demanding an increasingly larger role in the
establishment, planning and management of protected areas. As they
seek to incorporate cultural, spiritual and economic values and
practices into protected areas conservation and management, they
become active players. Park visitation programs and ecotourism, in
particular, involve the community and affect it. Therefore, impacts
monitoring must go beyond what happens in the protected area itself,
and must examine a myriad of characteristics of community life.
Methods for assessing impacts on local cultures and socio-economic
systems are necessary.
The Evolution of Visitor Management Methodologies
The first methods developed to address tourism impacts emerged from the concept of carrying capacity, which originated in the field of range management. Several definitions of carrying capacity have been offered, depending on how and where the concept is applied (see Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996 or Boo, 1995). Broadly defined, however, it is a measure of the amount and type of use which an area and its surrounding community can sustain before impacts become unacceptable. Methods for measuring it are provided by
Boullon, 1985; Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996; Cifuentes, 1992, among others, and examples of its application are seen in the Galapagos Islands and the Carara Reserve in Costa Rica (Harroun & Boo, 1996). The use of strict numerical limits on visitation is seen as a simple and straightforward solution for mitigating tourism impacts.
However, researchers and managers familiar with visitor impact dynamics (Stankey and McCool,1972; Lindberg et al., 1997; Borrie et al., 1998) recognized that there is no clear and precise relationship between numbers of tourists and impacts, and that there are many factors which affect where and how much impact will occur. In addition, a variety of mitigation strategies and tactics (Marion and Farrell, 1998) can be applied, effectively allowing increases in numbers while reducing negative impacts. Therefore, simple quantitative restrictions applied under carrying capacity analyses are no longer considered appropriate or accurate. New, more sensitive and specific methods have been developed. That said, it is important to note that the phrase, carrying capacity, is still commonly used and remains helpful for referring to the concept of placing limitations on tourism to reduce negative impacts. In fact, because the term is universally understood, it has raised awareness to the importance of impacts monitoring (Lindberg, McCool and Stankey,1997).
In response to the inadequacies of earlier, strictly numerical methods for limiting visitor impacts, Stankey and his colleagues developed more qualitative methodologies. The earliest of these utilizes the Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) concept, which recognizes that change will occur as a result of tourism and that the key goal of visitor management is to limit impacts to predetermined amounts. It and other similar methods set standards or ranges of acceptable change and describe a methodology for determining these standards, measuring impacts and identifying management strategies for controlling negative impacts. They include:
; Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) (Clark and Stankey, 1979); ; Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) (Stankey and McCool, 1972; Stankey et.
al, 1985, McCool and Stankey, 1992);
; Visitor Impact Management (VIM) (Graefe et al, 1990; Loomis and Graefe,
; Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) (Hof et al, 1993; NPS,
; Tourism Optimisation Management Model (TOMM) (Manidis, 1997),
These methodologies have been well reviewed by a variety of researchers (Boo, 1995; Harroun and Boo, 1996; Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996; Borrie et al., 1998; Harroun, 1994; Marrion and Farrell, 1998; TES, 1998; etc.) with the key differences identified. Particularly useful are reviews provided by Courrau (1995) and Harroun and Boo (1996) because they examine these methodologies for application in a developing country context. The former also suggests some site