Around the world on a paper plane

About ecotourism and its controversies

An alternative viewpoint of ecotourism – The Paper: Ecotourism or egotourism?

October 9, 2014 by whandoodleys · No Comments · Uncategorized

Egotourism is a recent neologism, based upon the pun between eco- and ego-, which pejoratively refers to travelers more motivated by an egotistical desire to feel they engage in ethical tourism than by a genuine desire to support a local ecology or sustainable development. According to Brian Wheeller (1993), “rather than effectively addressing the complexities of tourism impact, what ecotourism is actually achieving is the considerably easier task of answering the question – ‘How best can we cope with the criticism of tourism impact?’ – as opposed to the impact itself. Thus, the solution has been conjuring up an intellectually appealing concept with little practical application. One that satisfies the immediate short-term wishes of some of the main stakeholders in tourism’s impact debate, avoids sacrifices and enables behaviour in much the same way as before – but with the veneer of respectability and from a higher moral platform. ” This undeniably sparks off an interesting debate: is ecotourism truly eco, or, as Wheeller argues, merely an alternative form of tourism that boosts our ego and removes our guilt?

“Jost Krippendorf argues that tourism will remain ‘a special form of subservience’, unless the industry and practice of tourism undergoes a dramatic and profound restructuring. It is nothing short of arguing that the widely cited ‘Ss’ of tourism – sun, sea and sand – are matched by the ‘Ss’ of the content and outcome of tourism – subjugation, subservience and servitude.”

There have been many who criticise that ecotourism commodifies racism. It is argued that through the media, racism is reproduced and fashioned in such a way that tourists increasingly consume false images of what they are supposed to value, whether is it of the native hill tribes of northern Thailand or Mayan Indians in Guatemala. They are no longer able to transcend or look beyond the ‘smiling faces’ of the natives, or challenge this image-reality. According to Ian Munt (1994), ecotourism gives tourists the idea that they have became more ‘tasteful’ and mindful of environmental issues. New tourisms have begun to be conceived as reflecting personal qualities in the individual, such as strength of character, adaptability, sensitivity or even ‘worldiness’. Yet, does the pursuit of ecotourism truly indicate the presence of such qualities in the tourists? Can these qualities be cultivated simply by going on a tour? Travel has become an increasingly professionalised appendage of the new middle-class lifestyle – a Victorianesque tour that enhances cultural appreciation and which is saturated with the inverted racism and patronisation characteristic of earlier travel habits. Ecotourists search for a style of travel reflective of an ‘alternative’ lifestyle, but does ecotourism truly achieve this or merely creates an illusion of this?

There seem to be no correct answer to these questions. At the end of the day, perhaps even the tourists themselves are unclear of their motives of travel: do they consciously want to protect the environment or unconsciously want to boost their own ego? Either way, there is little doubt that ecotourism is booming – regardless of the motives behind it, perhaps even the mere thought of attempting to preserve the environment should be appreciated. What we should hope for is that as the industry booms, more thought and effort will be put into realising the ideals of ecotourism, perhaps by regulating it in such a way to ensure true sustainability.

Literature Cited

Wheeller, B. (1993). Sustaining the ego. Journal of sustainable tourism1(2), 121-129.

Munt, I. (1994). Eco-tourism or ego-tourism? Race and Class, 36(1), 49-60. Retrieved from

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