Striking a balance between environmental protection and economic benefit has been a crucial issue in the question of sustainable tourism.
Eco-tourism has drawn much attention of world leaders. International Eco-tourism Society defines eco-tourism as: “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.”
The Australian Commission on National Eco-tourism Strategy calls it: “Nature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable.” Over-development of tourism causes damage.
On the other hand, eco-tourism strives to minimise the adverse effects of hotels, trails, and other infrastructure by using either recycled materials or plentifully-available local building materials, renewable sources of energy, recycling and safe disposal of waste and garbage, and environmentally and culturally sensitive architectural design. For the minimisation of a negative impact of tourism on our ecosystem, we need to regulate the numbers and mode of behaviour of tourists.
Eco-tourism is not only “greener” but also less culturally intrusive and exploitative than conventional tourism. Whereas prostitution, black markets and drugs often are by-products of mass tourism, eco-tourism strives to be culturally respectful and have a minimal effect on both the natural environment and the human population of a host country.
This is not easy, especially since eco-tourism often involves travel to remote areas where small and isolated communities have had little experience interacting with foreigners.
Eco-tourism in Bangladesh
Eco-tourism has long been emphasised in the tourism planning process in Bangladesh. The government has enacted laws to ensure pollution-free environment and these are being implemented by the Department of Environment. These are the Environment Policy 1992 and Bangladesh Environment Protection Law 1995. These reflect the government’s keen interest and high priority to create a clean and green environment and eco-tourism development in the country.
Bangladesh sincerely believes that eco-tourism marketing and conservation of bio-diversity are complementary to each other and together make tourism and conservation activities sustainable if a synergy through proper management can be developed. Eco-tourism can bring improved income and living standards for local people. It can revitalise local culture, especially traditional crafts and customs. It can stimulate the rural economy by creating demand for agricultural products and, through infrastructure development projects, it can inject capital into rural areas. So for vigorous eco-tourism marketing for the benefit of all sharers, there is a need for interaction among the local community groups and leaders and the local authorities.
Earlier in Bangladesh, tourism activity was centred at the beaches and some other attractive areas. But of late, this idea has been changed. Conservation of nature and culture is the most important theme of all planned tourism development.
There is vast potential to develop and promote ecotourism here. The single largest mangrove forest of the world, the Sundarbans, is the gold mine for eco-tourism and pride of Bangladesh. Furthermore, other eco-tourism products include tea plantations in greater Sylhet, hilly green areas of Hill Tract districts, sandy beaches at Cox’s Bazar and Kuakata, rivers, lakes, forests and wildlife, glorious tribal life and the simple lifestyle of the village people. These tourism products have tremendous demand in the tourism markets of the world.
We need to continuously endeavour to integrate our eco-tourism resources through planning, management and appropriate use, based on some basic principles such as optimum multiple use of the resources, maximum sustainable use and conservation and development of natural resources.
When we promote and sell our tourist products (for example, the Sundarbans, the Hilly Districts, Cox’s Bazar) we have to make sure that the resources, such as the forests with their numerous varieties of trees, plants, herbs and their animals, are not destroyed or over-exploited.
Marketing of eco-tourism
Clearly, promotion and advertising play a very significant role in establishing an eco-product in the marketplace. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation and Bangladesh Tourism Board are carrying out different promotional activities for eco-tourism. Brochures and other promotional materials are being distributed abroad through all foreign missions of Bangladesh.
Participation in international tourism fairs, publication of features and advertisements in trade journals would also enable the country to promote its eco-tourism products.
Eco-tourism demands a more holistic approach to travel, one in which participants strive to respect, learn about and benefit both the local environment and local communities. For development of eco-tourism in Bangladesh, it needs well-trained, multilingual guides with skills in natural and cultural history, environmental interpretation, ethical principles and effective communication.
We need eco-tourism projects to help educate members of the surrounding communities, and schoolchildren of the host communities. Although tourism often is superficially hailed as a tool for building international understanding and world peace, we understand this does not happen automatically. We all need to work hard for eco-tourism development.