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Ecotourism: In Tune With Nature

Updated: Apr 12


Bjehulla, Kosovo. Photography Hiking Njeri ©

Tourism is among the largest industry segments in the world with ecotourism as its fastest growing sector. With this, we see a rise in ecotourism and sustainable tourism trends. Both these trends focus on conserving and preserving the environment through responsible travel, however they are quite different from one another. Ecotourism focuses on travelling to areas of natural beauty and rich biodiversity while at the same time protecting them and contributing to the local economy. In contrast, the purpose of sustainable tourism is sustainability and making travel less harmful. In regard to the damages that travel causes, a research conducted by Satiststa, a company of market research and data analytics, shows that the transportation sector, globally, produced approximately 7.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions only in 2020, making this sector the major polluter of all.


The term ecotourism was coined in 1983 by Hector Ceballos Lascurain, a Mexican environmentalist, who is also considered as the father of ecotourism. There are several definitions of ecotourism that show its essential role. One of the most famous is that of Ceballos Lascurain who defines ecotourism as “tourism that consists in travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas.” Moreover, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.” Therefore, it can be said that ecotourism includes travelling to areas of natural beauty, while simultaneously learning, and conserving the environment, its ecosystem, and cultural heritage, as well as helping the local community.


WHY DO WE NEED ECOTOURISM TRENDS?


Humans were historically surrounded by nature, they are connected to it and continuously interact with it. Unlike other species, they have the capacity of transforming nature, be it in a positive or negative way. Rising global population, industry development and increasing resource consumption have had a devastating impact on nature. If we look at the human impact that it had on forests these past years, the results are shocking. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest since 1990, with 10 million hectares per year between 2015-2020. Kosovo alone is losing about 1.5 hectares of forest per day (visit NGO Sustainability Leadership Kosovo for more information about deforestation in Kosovo).


While economic and technological developments made it possible for people to travel more and visit many uncharted areas and helped the tourism and economic development for the local communities, it also brought the phenomenon which is known as mass tourism. Norbert Vanhove, Professor at KU Leuven - College of Europe, defines mass tourism as “the participation of a large number of people in tourism, whatever tourist activity may be” where “the holiday is mainly standardised, rigidly packaged and inflexible.” Despite the many benefits that this form of tourism has, its disadvantages exceed them. Mass tourism’s impacts are seen in the increase of solid waste, climate change, overcrowding, the increase of carbon emission in the area, noise pollution, releases of sewage, oil and chemicals, degradation of natural resources, architectural/visual pollution, and threatened ecosystems.

An alternative solution might be considered ecotourism which can be seen as the economic support of conserving and preserving the environment. Therefore, people can travel and take care of nature at the same time. There are three main functions of ecotourism: nature protection, environmentally educative, and increasing economic benefits.


Nature protection

“Nature does not belong to us, we belong to nature,” says Naskar, an Indian neuroscientist. It is our sanctuary, the place where we find peace and happiness. But, in order to achieve and maintain them, we have to take care of and protect our nature, and ecotourism plays a major role in this regard. The role of ecotourism, as stated by Stephan Obenaus, is to increase awareness and consciousness about the environment that surrounds us through continuously exploring its ecology and ecosystem. Some of the countries which are considered as good examples in this aspect are Costa Rica, Norway, and Kenya, which have over 25 national parks and protected areas that have resulted in nature and its habitats protection, as well as offering tourists opportunities to enjoy the natural diversity and beauty like nowhere else.

Environmentally and culturally educative

Through ecotourism we do not only protect nature and its resources, but we also ‘undergo’ a learning process, which increases our consciousness about nature and the benefits we get from it. As Weaver, a Professor in Griffith University (Gold Coast, Australia), claims, ecotourism does not only focus on giving tourists ‘a satisfying recreational experience’ but also on ‘minimising negative impacts and producing a more environmentally and culturally aware citizenry.’ As we can see, ecotourism plays an important role in educating people about cultural heritage as well, where people can also learn how to promote their culture and learn about different cultures. Most importantly by learning to preserve the culture, tradition and history, ecotourism helps in maintaining the authenticity of that area.


Increasing economic benefits

Another reason why we should focus on ecotourism development is the economic benefits we can gain from it. Kiper, an architecture Professor at Tekirdag Namik Kemal University, explains that ecotourism contributes to the development of the local economy through supplying the locals with a more sustainable alternate source of livelihood. Ecotourism provides new employment opportunities for the locals, the development of infrastructure, including green infrastructure, transportation, communication network, health services, and so on. According to EBSCO Sustainability Watch, ecotourism globally generates $77 billion in revenue and makes up 5-7% of the overall travel and tourism market, and it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, with a growth rate of 10-30%.

DISADVANTAGES OF ECOTOURISM


There is no doubt that ecotourism benefits the environment, animals, and people, it is a win-win situation, but if it is managed poorly, it can lead to:


Wildlife disturbance

The purpose of ecotourism is to visit beautiful places rich in biodiversity but leave as few impacts on nature as we can, which is a bit hard to accomplish. Visiting places that are rarely frequented by humans, the chances to disturb the wildlife are high. As Andreas, an environmental activist, writes: “local animals might not know how to deal with tourists in an adequate manner and may feel disturbed.”


Environmental Pollution

The development of ecotourism attracts more tourists, which means the number of people visiting a certain place increases. The larger the number of tourists, the bigger the need of using vehicles, which through gas emission cause air pollution. As Maximova, a digital nomad says, “the more cars, the worse the air quality.” Moreover, even though it is hard to accept, there are many people who call themselves ‘ecotourists’ but their actions tend to be hypocritical. Many people still throw garbage in the environment, ignoring the fact that even the tiniest garbage has negative impacts on nature. If the majority acts the same way, they may lead to turning these places to landfill, which is the opposite of ecotourism's purpose.


Transculturation

Another disadvantage of ecotourism is transculturation or the change of a culture’s customs and traditions due to the other cultures’ impacts. The inhabitants of a certain area have been living a certain lifestyle and nature has been the main source of their livelihood. However, with the mismanagement of ecotourism development, their lifestyle begins to be affected and then changed. The residents get affected by foreign tourists as well as tour agencies, who trying to fit to their tourists’ needs and requests, may lead them to change their traditions and way of living, which in turn causes the loss of the cultural heritage of the area.


Tourist exploitation

Although one of the main features of ecotourism is to create employment opportunities for the locals, many of these jobs are only short-term or seasonal, lasting 3-4 months. Furthermore, due to the fact that many people still face hardships to earn their living, they take any chance that comes their way; this way, they might exploit tourists with inflated prices in order to increase their benefits.


In order to avoid these outcomes, people need to be informed and raise awareness about the environment and their impact on nature. Even those who exploit the ecosystem, will lose if the ecosystem dies, because man needs nature more than nature needs him.


HOW DOES KOSOVO STAND WITH ECOTOURISM?


Kosovo is a landlocked country and lies in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula. Although a small country, Kosovo is known for its natural resources and cultural heritage. Its geographical position, climate, water resources, forests, mountains, rich biodiversity, caves and canyons make Kosovo a country with great potential for ecotourism development.


Despite its great potential, lack of human resources and financial support make up some of the challenges that Kosovo faces in the implementation of this new trend of tourism. Besides, lack of cultural exchange and of educated people in relation to ecotourism, make up another challenge that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, hunting and cutting trees, besides having negative impacts on tourism development, have become a worrisome issue in terms of ecosystem and ecological conditions. A research conducted by NGO Sustainability Leadership Kosova, points out that some of the native species, such as bear, fox, wolf, lynx, eagle and woodpeckers, are in danger because of deforestation, and if people continue cutting trees at these rates, by 2035, it is expected that forests in Kosovo will lose their primary function.


Nevertheless, as mentioned above, being ecologically and culturally rich, Kosovo offers various beautiful attractions for tourists, those being: national parks, caves, canyons, waterfalls and museums.


National Parks

Kosovo has established two National Parks so far, Sharri National Park and Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park. These parks are rich in ecological and ecosystem resources and offer many attractions where people can enjoy, protect, and learn about nature through various recreational activities.


Sharri National Park is characterised by forests, marvellous landscapes, mountain pastures, glacial lakes. Veselaj and Mustafa, professors at the University of Prishtina, write that this park is known for about 1500 species of vascular flora, 147 species of butterflies, 7 species of fish, 9 species of amphibians, 10 species of reptiles, 154 species of birds and 30 species of mammals. Tourists can enjoy these resources through hiking, snow shoe hiking, climbing, paragliding, zip lining, and birdwatching. If you want to explore this park, you can contact FINCH NGO for tour guidance.


Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park is also characterised by beautiful landscapes, forests, rivers, glacial lakes. Veselaj and Mustafa, professors at the University of Prishtina, write that this National Park is home to over 255 endemic species, rare and endangered mammal, bird and plant species. With over 200 bird species, Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park is also known as an Important Bird Area (IBA) under the BirdLife International Convention. The activities you can do in this park are hiking, skiing, diving and much more.


Gadime Cave

Gadime Cave, also known as the Marble Cave, is among the Kosovo natural beauties. It is located in the village Gadime e Ulët, in the municipality of Lipjan. Most of the area of the cave is unexplored, with 1500 m explored and 800 m open for tourists. Furthermore, within the cave there is a lake which is 15 to 25 m long. The cave is rich in rare crystals which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.


Rugova Canyon

It is a river canyon, 25 km long and 1000 m deep, and it is located in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna mountains, near the municipality of Peja. The activities that tourists can do in this canyon are hiking, rock-climbing, and exploring caves. In this Canyon, a ‘Via Ferrata’ has been built which is called Iron Trail, which gives people the opportunity to climb the rocks.


Waterfalls

Mirusha Waterfall and White Drin Waterfall are one of the biggest tourist attractions of Kosovo. They both have been taken under legal protection due to their ecological and ecosystem resources. The picturesque view of these waterfalls will leave you in awe where you will be left feasting your eyes on.

Mirusha Waterfalls is located in the municipality of Malisheva. The amazing phenomena here is that as the Mirusha Lake passes through Mirusha Canyon, it creates 16 lakes and 12 waterfalls between them.

White Drin Waterfall is located in the municipality of Peja. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes, valleys and caves, it makes it one of the most visited tourist attractions.


Museums

If you want to get to know and learn about Kosovo culture and traditions, then museums are the right place. There are 7 active museums in Kosovo, some of them are Kosovo Museum (Prishtina), Ethnographic Museum (Prishtina), Archaeological Museum of Prizren (Prizren), Museum of Peja (Peja), Museum of Mitrovica (Mitrovica), Ethnographic Museum of Gjakova (Gjakova). These museums hold archaeological artefacts from different historical periods, dating from Illyrian civilisation and many ethnographic handiworks that show the local diversity. You will also have the chance to look closely at the lifestyle that people had in past times, traditional clothes and instruments, which mark the historical memory and identity of Kosovo.


CONCLUSION

In conclusion, ecotourism is a tourism sector, growing at fast rates. Ecotourism means travelling sustainably and at the same time exploring nature, wildlife, and culture while conserving them. It is the economic support of conserving the environment. While the development of ecotourism brings benefits to the environment, ecosystem and local economy, its mismanagement can lead to many disadvantages that can leave long lasting negative impacts on nature.


What you can do either as ecotourists or locals is read as much as you can about this form of tourism, study the main goals of ecotourism, without being a victim of “greenwashing”. In addition, keep the environment as clean as possible and protect it from littering, avoid using plastic and instead use reusable bags, recycle, avoid causing light pollution, adopt a tree (contact Sustainability Leadership Kosova NGO to learn how to do it), do not support animal reserves or organisation that offer animal attractions, use public transportation and non-stop flights whenever possible. Overall, promote ecotourism as much as possible so that others can be informed and together work towards a healthier world. I want to end this article with a quote by Yuri Gagarin: “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!".


The author of this article, Shukrie Sadiku current intern at SLK, is a fourth-year student at the English Language and Literature department at the University of Pristina and an exchange student at Justus-Liebig Universität, Giessen, Germany. She is also part of the Mentoring Our Future, mentoring programme of the University of Prishtina, for the academic year 2021/22. She enjoys reading, nature, and astronomy.


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