Ecotourism, NGOS and Development

Can the competing needs of change and biodiversity in the developing world be reconciled? Butcher throws new light on this by looking critically at the role of ecotourism in sustainable development for materially poorer communities. Ecotourism has been initiated by non-governmental organisations, like Conservation International, the World Wildlife Fund and Tourism Concern, as exemplar sustainable development in the rural developing world. Butcher looks at how these NGOs advocate ecotourism and through case studies explores issues around community participation, the value of tradition, the preservation of natural capital and the local integration of conservation and development. These studies raise critical issues about: defining sustainable development, creating an inherent resistance to change, disillusionment with western societies, and the grudging view of ecotourism as the least worst way of reconciling development and conservation. A central concern is that some forms of ecotourism seem to require that 'development should be based around non consumption [and] .....rules out transformative development.' Butcher argues that ecotourism's popularity as a development option devalues human advancement by linking it to external, western concepts of conservation priority. He challenges the case for conservation led development in that it reflects a diminished view of the potential for substantial development and liberation from poverty. His case is for a greater priority for development and less for conservation. While a convincing argument is made for this critical view of the western orientated NGO approach to eco tourism based on a 'strong' view of sustainability, the voice of the receiving communities is missing. Indeed, Butcher says, 'Studies of local resident attitudes would need to take account of [the] wider context in which choices are made and attitudes expressed.' Such additional insights are vital in addressing his contention, that the competition between 'conservation and human development cannot be reconciled in the midst of poverty.'