Social Issues and Psychology:
Psychology & The Environment
Fall, 1997


Ecotourism-- Is it Really Worth It?

Chad Crandell, Julie Curtis & Shannon Ingalls

Please Note: These materials may be used for research, study, and education, but please credit the authors and source.

    Tourism is one of Hawaii’s main industries- it accounted for roughly one third of its 25.8 billion economy in 1993. Hawaii attracts huge numbers of visitors a year because of its beautiful beaches, native wildlife and biodiversity, and lush green forests, which contain rohter.gif (42818 bytes)many endangered plants and fauna. Since the travel industry has exploded from 83.3 billion dollars in 1979 to 208.7 billion in 1996, it is nearly impossible to prevent people from engaging in some form of tourism. The number of people present in Hawaii on any single day will increase by seventy percent to about 1.75 billion. Many inhabitants of states, such as Hawaii, who attract a large number of visitors do not want to ban tourism because it brings in so much money and jobs for many people, but would rather encourage ecotourism, which also brings in money and tries to preserve the environment. This is supported by a quote from Mufi Hanneman, who is the director of the State Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism. He states that the people of Hawaii are "putting efforts together to promote cultural tourism and ecotourism. We’re not just a place to come and lie on the beach" (Fisher, p.14).  [Photo from A Green Hawaii by Ira Rohter, used with permission]

ECOTOURISM
TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS
INCENTIVES
SOLUTIONS
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ECOTOURISM

    Ecotourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people. In 1996, ecotourism grossed over 335 billion dollars worldwide. This is a huge amount of money, which leads our group to believe that a huge number of visitors are engaging in it. To many, this may seem like the environment is being conserved and cared about, but actually it is still being destroyed because there has been an increase of tourism. Genuine ecotourism would protect Hawaii’s unique land and ocean ecologies, not destroy them. " Tourist industry spokesmen, such as Director Mufi Hanneman and President Stanley Hong, have recently been promoting Hawaii as a place where "ecotourism" and "cultural tourism" is practical. Their actions promote more mass tourism, whose imports are bad for native Hawaiians and Hawaii’s average working and middle-class residents" (Rohter A).

    Hawaii’s so called ecotourism industry has only led to unbalanced economic development and grossly inflated housing and living costs. The states booming tourist industry now creates mostly low-paying jobs servicing tourism, while burdening many local residents with low wages, expensive housing, and a cost-of-living 38% higher than on the Mainland. Many Hawaiians are being forced to move to the Mainland, where salaries are higher, there are better jobs, and a cost of living is more affordable.

    The problems in Hawaii are only going to get worse. Many state planners and developers are fast at work, developing plans to build resorts, golf courses, and upscale homes to accomodate for a nearly doubling number of tourists flooding the Island, to 11,500,000, by the year 2005. New resorts and hotels, 105 new golf courses, convention centers, shopping malls, expanding airports, and 300,000 new residents who migrate to the Isles to fill low-paying service jobs, will result. This large-scale tourism-oriented development will only place an even greater pressure on Hawaii’s unique and fragile ecology. Hawaii’s overdevelopment already devastates its environment by the massive loss of green space, beaches, and marine life. Some of Hawaii’s areas are already suffering from low levels of drinking water and are finding significant levels of toxic chemicals in their soil, water, and food. The only hope for solving these problems is to adopt a totally new form of tourism. Many people realize this and, as a result, promote ecotourism.


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INCENTIVES
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ECOTOURISM
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TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS

    We would like to relate the problems Hawaii’s environment is facing with the Tragedy of the Commons. If enough people participate in a specific activity (such as ecotourism), even if it is for the good of the environment, it is still going to have a detrimental effect. Most tourists to Hawaii are of Asian descent who traditionally travel in massive groups, which because of the large camaraderie, can bring destruction to an environment which most likely can sustain only a certain number of people. An example of this is a native fauna, which is almost extinct, that exists in many forests of Maui. An activity of ecotourism includes "nature" hikes in which people walk through different forests. If too many people walk through these forests and touch or accidentally step on this fauna, it is still going to be destroyed. The only difference is that it is going to die a slow death. A solution our group has come up with is to allow only a certain number of tourists per month to visit these areas contain native wildlife and biodiversity and areas that are being destroyed by an excess of human activity. We believe this will work because if people realize they can not do something as a result of too much human activity, then maybe they will become more aware of the activities they engage in and the consequences they present.


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ECOTOURISM
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INCENTIVES

    The state of Hawaii has offered many incentives to visitor to engage in ecotourism. Some examples of these incentives include having the advantage of seeing native biodiversity such as coral reefs, camping out in the lush forests, and being given discounts to certain tourist attractions. All these incentives apply only and only if it involves an ecotourist group who is being guided by a licensed ecotour. No one will begranted these opportunities unles they can prove they are part of an ecotourist group, who is concerned not only with sightseeing, but also with preserving the environment.

    Our group would like to look at the consequences of these incentives. Since only ecotourists are allowed to see native wildlife up close and personal, then many of the tourist operators are losing money because other tourists are not allowed to participate. This can be devastating because many of the tour operators rely on these jobs to support themselves and their families. Although there are a great number of people participating in ecotourism, there are still a lot of people that are not involved with it- which can result in the loss of a great amount of money.

    Another consequence of incentives that we feel is important is the opportunity ecotourists have to camp out in the forests. Since such a great number of people are ecotourists, many of the hotels are losing money. Hotels in Maui can cost up to $400.00 a night and if they lose just two families a week to ecotourism, they will end up losing $38,400.00 a year! That is a phenomenal amount of money, which many hotel workers depend on for their living.

    The last consequence we identified was that many tourist attractions were going to lose money. Since most of them offer discounts to groups of ecotourists (which like we have already said account for a good number of visitors), they begin to lose money because it is cheaper and also, because many of the other visitors not involved in ecotourism will not be interested in an attraction that does not offer tehm a discount. As a result of all these incentives, the state of Hawaii’s economy is going to change drastically. There will be a higher percentage of unemployment and less money generated by the tourist attractions. This is not what Hawaii wanted or hoped for, but we feel it is inevitable when ecotourism is promoted by encouraging incentives.


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SOLUTIONS

    Lastly our group would like to look at some possible solutions that the state of Hawaii might want to implement. We feel that governmental laws and regulations are the most important. If people know they are prohibited from touching or doing something, most littlewhales.gif (21385 bytes)people will listen and follow these laws. Hawaii needs to implement laws, not just rules. We have already seen hat rules do not always work. An example of this is the whaling industry. Many tourists who visit Hawaii are particularly interested in swimming with the whales. The only rule in this activity is that the tourists cannot touch the whales. Unfortunately, this rule has been unsuccessful and the whales are still being touched. We feel that if there was a law that fined each person who touched a whale, then people would refrain from that specific activity, in order to save money [whale photo from NOAA].

    If we are to genuinely solve these problems Hawaii is suffering from, we need to find new forms of tourism. These new forms of tourism must be decentralized and small, in order to minimize its impact on the natural and human environment. Some possible alternatives are "Hawaiian Cultural Parks, Plantation Villages, small-scale facilities such as bed and breakfasts and small inns, farm tourism, and home grown learning-oriented towns" ( Rohter A). All these facilities must conserve water and energy, and promote the recycling of waste and the use of renewable energy sources. The hope is that these new forms of tourism will attract travelors, who are looking for the opportunity to experience diverse culture, natural beauty, and rich learning. We believe that Hawaii is a perfect place to initiate this new form of genuine eco-tourism that can attract environmentally sensitive , learning-oriented travelors.

    We also feel that education is an extremely important solution. Not enough people are aware of the dangers their human activity causes. We feel if they were educated about it, they might be more careful when engaging in specific activities. We believe that each tourist, after getting off of a boat or plane, should be required to attend an informational session that would educate them on the dangers they may cause to the environment.

    The last solution we feel is important is small group management. Granted Hawaii does have an Ecotourism Association, which promotes ecotourism, but they need to do more than that. They need to monitor the number of tourists visiting certain areas; they need to inform all tourists of the native wildlife and fauna that is in danger because of their human activity. Lastly, they need to try to prevent Hawaii’s economy from dissipating as a result of the increase in ecotourists.

    Although tourism is Hawaii’s main industry (because of the money it generates), it also brings along with it many problems that endanger the environment. Many scientists realize this, and as a result, promote ecotourism. This branch of tourism has mushroomed and also has brought Hawaiian environment, which is already in danger, dangers to the environment. We, as a group, realize that we need to improve ecotourism as much as we can so it will not contribute in destroying the Hawaiian environment, which is already in danger.

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References 

    Fisher, Christy. "Hawaii tourism ads go beyond beach."Advertising Age. 12 July 1993:14

     "Hawaii: Paradise Lost." Economist. 3 April 1993: 32-33

     A. Rohter, Ira. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~irohter/Eco-TourismArticle.htm

     B. Rohter, Ira. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~irohter/NorthshoreArticle.htm

    Waldrop, Judith. "Hawaii counts annual alohas." American Demographics. February 1993: 25-26

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Psy 412 Miami University. Last revised: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 17:06:36. This document has been accessed 1 times since July 15, 1997. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman . Also See: Social Psychology at Miami University