Born in its current form in the late 1980s, Eco-tourism came of age in 2002, when the United Nations celebrated the “International Year of Ecotourism”. It essentially means ecological tourism; where ecological has both environmental and social connotations. Though it may vary with different countries, it is both a concept and movement in the tourism sector.
A little search on the internet, will reveal that eco-tourism is a combination of tourism and the environment such as planning before development; sustainability of resources; economic viability of a tourism product; no negative impact on either the environment or local communities; responsibility for the environment from developers, the tourism industry and tourists; environmentally-friendly practices by all parties concerned and economic benefits flowing to local communities.
Ever since its inception in the late 1980s, the countries the world over, whose tourism sector is worth writing home about, have embarked on a vigorous campaign to advocate for the kind of tourism that is less extractive but rather sustainable. A case in point is a recent economic assessment of the rain forest land use in Brazil, where Conservationists determined that logging the forest provided an initial high return, followed by little income. Conversion of the forest into pastureland was even less profitable and required substantial initial investment and the study concluded that eco-tourism provided the most income over the long term
The same high end practice in tourism is resounded in Kenya where Local communities, understanding the economic benefits of eco-tourism and are often motivated to protect resources and adopt conservationist attitudes and this has thus translated into serious revenue, for example in Amboseli national Park in Kenya, it is estimated that each lion is worth $27,000 and each elephant herd is worth $610,000 in tourist revenue per year, thus their new Motto: wildlife pays wild life stays.
Needless to say, Rwandan tourism sector under its governing body ORTPN, (Office Rwandais Du Tourisme Et Des Parcs Nationaux) are not left out in the advocacy the eco-tourism in the touring industry. Rwanda with its eco-tourism activities that include Golden Monkey trekking in Nyungwe forest, Gorilla tracking of the five families in the Volcanoes National Park, the over 300 bird species to watch which include the Rwenzori Turaco, giant lobelias, and over 200 different types of trees and flowers which also include the famous wilds orchids, has embarked on necessary measures that are geared at driving Rwanda’s tourism sector to an eco-tourist based one.
The policy at the ORTPN is one geared at a high end kind of tourism, as opposed to mass tourism. In the high end tourism system, you target a few tourists, but then get a lot of revenue out of it. This is geared at the protection and management of the environmentally sensitive areas.
The focus according to ORTPN, has seen such measure being put in place, like the five gorilla families in Volcanoes national park, have to be visited by not more than eight people a day, and they get to spend with the family not more than an hour per visit. All this will be at a cost of $375 per day for foreign tourists, $250 for the local tourist, who are non nationals, and frw10 000 for nationals.
As regards Nyungwe forest, that is famous for its attractive nature walks to the Kamiranzovu giant swamps and the beautiful cascading water falls, tourist are obliged to follow gazetted trails and when deep in the forest, are supposed to be guided by the forest guides, to watch the hundreds of the bird species, hundred of colobus monkeys and the varying plant specie there in. however here again the policy is that no one gets of the forest with anything, be it the wild orchid. With a controlled number of tourist and activity, the tourism office has managed to attain its objective in eco-tourism of a sustainable tourism.
The activities of ORTPN that are geared toward eco-tourism have impacted on the various tourist sites, in a manner that has in turn, favoured responsible tourism. A case in point is Banda, a small village in Nyungwe forest that is frequently visited by the tourists. The residents of this village have been able to tap directly from the tourists owing to their crafts that they sale to the tourist.
The office it’s self, has managed to contribute to communities living around these tourist attractions, in revenue sharing schemes all around the country, an annual amount that has got to frw 42 million, for their various self development projects that have no bearing at all on tourism and which is a growing trend.
Just like tourism elsewhere, the trends in Rwanda are changing and embracing eco-tourism since it targets long term profits in a sustainable tourist environment.