You will find hiking guides in many protected areas in Europe. They are there to inform and guide visitors, while venturing into the field, on the characteristic features of the area and much more. They are in fact key agents to promote sustainable tourism in such natural protected areas. Researchers from the University of Tuscia, Italy, conducted a multidisciplinary survey on the role of ecotourism in further sustainable development. Their results indicate the great potential that hiking guides have, to convey the message of sustainable tourism to visitors. Therefore, they study concludes to invest more resources for further training of hiking guides, to optimise the conservation messaging.
Please also read: Sustainable tourism support opportunities
The dichotomy of tourism
Amongst hiking guides, the importance of sustainable tourism and development is well known. Yet, the conducted survey in this study reveals that there is a need for up-to-date knowledge and skills amongst hiking guides. Especially regarding communication, how to effectively get the message across to others. It is an important matter to address, as ecotourism provides a great opportunity for further local sustainable development in a region. For example in National Parks, ecotourism can lead to creation of jobs to boost local economy. On the other hand, excessive tourism in these natural areas is an increasing threat to biodiversity conservation.
Already before the pandemic, National Parks were increasingly successful tourist destinations. During the pandemic, National Parks have witnessed even a more dramatic increase in the number of visitors. For example, some parks in Italy deal with almost 30% increase visitors in 2020, compared to the previous year. The ecological footprint of people visiting can negatively impact the natural heritage that they are in fact visiting.
Comparing ecotourism with nature-based tourism
For many people, ecotourism and nature-based tourism may sound alike. Yet they are two different forms of tourism, says one of the researchers from University of Tuscia.
Nature-based tourism relates to the enjoyment of nature in various forms, while ecotourism rather implies minimal negative environmental impacts, positive socio-economic effects while allowing for the even distribution of its benefits among the main stakeholders.
When visitor pressure increases in natural areas, the nature will be negatively impacted by their ecological footprint. This is one of the topics that park management should address, and hiking guides can play a crucial role in that. The hiking guides are the interface between the visitors and the park management. In this role, they could convey the conservation message to the visitors. They could promote sustainable tourism practices from local businesses, for example agro-environmental production of foods. The researchers suggest, that such an approach could greatly help lowering the tourists’ ecological footprint and contribute to the park’s conservation and tourism strategies.
The European Wilderness Society developed the Respect Nature initiative to support park management in this process. With this initiative, we aim to raise awareness on how to enjoy the outdoors and Wilderness and at the same time minimise our impact on it. This will help to raise awareness on how humans can have a strong impact on the nature around them when enjoying the outdoors. For example by disturbing animals, destroying vegetation, littering and trampling the soils, we leave may traces behind. Therefore, to not destroy the home of wildlife, as well as to keep nature intact for future visitors, outdoor enthusiasts should to be aware of their impact.
Discover more about the 9 Respect Nature principles here!