Ecotourism in protected areas chances and threats. Aleksandra Machnik Chair of Human Ecology, Faculty of Tourism and Recreation AWF Poznań

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1 Polish Journal of Environmental Studies Vol. 15, No 5c, 2006, p Ecotourism in protected areas chances and threats Aleksandra Machnik Chair of Human Ecology, Faculty of Tourism and Recreation AWF Poznań Abstract: Nowadays, even protected areas are menaced by civilization. Considered as being very attractive, they attract tourists, which causes exposure to strong tourist penetration. On the other hand, good environmental education is a very important factor in nature protection and sustainable region development. Also, the local community should be well oriented in the region. That, in turn, coerces a compromise between protection and education. Ecotourism could show protected areas without harming them. Often not well prepared, it causes more threats than traditional tourism. The definition states that it is not for everybody. Moreover, tourists and local communities attitude to nature is still not very satisfying. Without improvement in this field, neither nature protection nor ecotourism can be exercised efficiently. The paper discusses some problems connected with ecotourism in protected areas presented on a selected West Poland landscape parks case. Key words: ecotourism, nature protection, ecological awareness, local community, landscape parks Ecotourism is a brand new branch of tourism in Poland. Its definition still causes problems and misunderstandings. Sometimes it is even mistaken with agrotourism or ecoagrotourism. Tourism events organized in nature are also often called soft tourism, green

2 tourism, ecologically or environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism. The last term is connected with the concept of sustainable development, which means such a kind of management that secures a possibility of using the environment again in the future. Because of the misunderstandings, it is not so easy to find an ecotourism event which would be properly organized. A definition proposed by Zaręba (2000) seems to be the most suitable one. According to this definition, ecotourism is a form of active and extensive sightseeing in a naturally and culturally valuable area - which protects harmony of ecosystems and local community s separateness. It provides financial means for effective protection of natural and cultural heritage and, at the same time, brings real social-economic benefits to local community. In consequence, we can distinguish the three most important aims of ecotourism: 1. Ecological - nature and environment protection in a long term perspective (connected with sustainable development ideas). 2. Economic - support for sustainable development of the region, increase of local communities incomes and highly likely - decrease of unemployment. 3. Social - firstly - for tourists, such as interesting, valuable and relaxing stay in natural ecosystems with nice surroundings, sometimes with some educational aspects. Secondly for the local community, for example better life conditions. There are also social aims for both groups which stem from the increasing need for sustainable tourism as well as understanding of its ideas and rules, and also for its development followed by the increase of ecological awareness and education. A possibility of self improvement of each participant, both inhabitants and tourists, is a very important factor of ecotourism development. For example, dwellers can find themselves needed and attractive because they know their own surroundings best and they can show it to strangers. Likewise, tourists can experience something new, exciting, touching, educational etc.

3 Seen like this, ecotourism should not be introduced to high risk areas in order to prevent them from being devastated. It is inadmissible to organize an ecotourism event in a harmful way - for example a case of Ekspedycja Nadwarciańska (Nadwarciański Landscape Park), promoted as an ecotourism event and organized for 200 people visiting peat bogs area in one day! When organizing an ecotourism event, after choosing an area, it is necessary to win the local community s support, because without their permission to our idea, even the best plan could not be accomplished properly and with satisfaction. The next step is to find answers to the following questions: - What do we want to show - which species or what (e.g. ecosystem) will become our hero - Where a precise place where we can find it (sometimes it is also needed to find the answer to when it is be possible) - Who is this event organized for - it is understandable that it should be prepared differently for adults and for children or for students of biology and for non-professionals. And - very important, often forgotten - how to make this event interesting and unique but also not harmful for nature and for our hero, which is usually the most crucial factor (Kaczor, Machnik, 2003). Among all law protected areas in Poland, landscape parks seem to be most frequently designated for tourism and ecotourism. It is because the priority of nature protection and safety for ecological balance in visited ecosystem should be respected at all times and without any exceptions. On the other hand, landscape protected areas and even those which are not protected can be used as a place for ecoutourism event equally well. As has been said, the local community attitude towards the event is a crucial factor. The scheme below (fig.1) shows two model situations. First - which occurs very often now a local community does not appreciate the surrounding nature. The inhabitants are not

4 BENEFIT LOCAL COMMUNITY NATURE LOSS interested in knowing anything about it; they are not proud of and not responsible for nature. In this case, they - more or less consciously - can destroy the natural value, making the nature less attractive, and it confirms the local community in the conviction that this nature is worthless. Negative relations consolidation Enmity Ignornace Lack of understanding Lack of responsability Claimful attitude Degradation Transformation Simplification Disappearance Proud Knowledge Understanding Responsability Solicitude Conservation Protection Expansion Positive relations consolidation Fig. 1. Selected implication of relations between local community and nature (Machnik, Miedzińska 2005) Second situation more model like and desirable the dwellers appreciate nature, take care of it and know very well that it could bring income, so they want it to be in good condition, they understand that nature is very important for them. This attitude obviously helps nature and keeps it in balance and allows functioning in long term.

5 Research carried out in Chair of Human Ecology, Faculty of Tourism and Recreation, AWF Poznań in selected landscape parks in western Poland, show that tourists mainly appreciate nature and its resources and values but only as background. They do not find it necessary to know something more about natural values of the surroundings, where they are resting. They also have difficulties with distinguishing concrete elements of nature in protected areas. Most of them know the name of the landscape park and are conscious of being in a protected area; however, it was not the main incentive to spend time in this place. They are still satisfied and they consider nature as the main and the most important element of the park (Machnik 2006). Recapitulating then, there are limitations in creation of ecotourism events and barriers of ecotourism development. It is necessary to remember about an ecological means of transport and appropriate non-disturbing number of tourists taking part in a particular event. Its definition shows that ecoutourism is not a form of tourism for everybody, because there are many people who are simply not interested in it. This can cause more danger than they can experience. Event planning as well as the way sightseeing is going to be executed seem to be very important elements too. It is necessary that each person is adequately prepared for the event, also in the psychological and educational meaning. Sometimes limitations are connected with lack of financials means. In particular cases a well organized ecotourism event demands great costs, without which it could not be done in a proper way. A crucial barrier is caused by the priority of nature protection and conservation, which is often forgotten and not realised nor respected. Important limiting factor could also form some local conflicts - for example between management of protected area and local community or - even more destructive - unfavourable attitude of local community to the event or tourists in general. Lack of specialised staff is not conducive to ecotourism development. Natural

6 habitats are more endangered by synantropisation or even extinction, when tourism is organized by people who have been chosen at random. Howewer, ecotourism is a great chance for protected areas, in times when decrease of tourism is unavoidable. This form creates a possibility of better nature protection and maintenance of natural balance in ecosystems. It allows believing that also knowledge, understanding and awareness will be more and more widespread. Nevertheless, it cannot be forgotten that complications connected with defining problems and misunderstandings are very dangerous. A situation when ecotourism causes dangers for natural environment and for local community should be considered as inadmissible. References: Machnik A. Poziomy postrzegania przyrody przez turystów. W: Krupa J., Biliński J. (red.) Turystyka w badaniach naukowych. Prace przyrodnicze i humanistyczne. Wyd. Wyższej Szkoły Informatyki i Zarządzania, Rzeszów, 2006, pp , 2006 Machnik A., Kaczor B. Turystyka przyrodnicza w zachodniej Polsce możliwości rozwoju, szanse i zagrożenia. w: Turystyka w Polsce w warunkach integracji europejskiej i globalizacji rynku światowego. Red. I. Jędrzejczyk, W. Młynarski, AWF Katowice, pp , 2003 Machnik A., Miedzińska I. Ecotourism as an activisation form for rural areas. Touristic Policy. Panasiuk A. (red). Wyd. Fundation for Szczecin University, Szczecin-Kopenhagen, pp , 2005 Zaręba D. Ecotourism challenges and hopes. PWN Warszawa, 184, 2000

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