Growing The Rural Communities Through Sustainable Tourism

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– Olukayode Kolawole

The responsibility to grow our rural communities is a shared one. In fact, majority of the tourism sites in Nigeria are located in most of the rural areas. Development in these areas are not as fast-paced as urban communities. Every year, rural development always finds its way to the government’s shopping list but somehow doesn’t make it to the priority list. Reasons for this might include, but not limited to, insufficient budget, lack of proper planning and measurable goals. Most of the tourism sites in the country domicile within these rural communities. It is therefore surprising why we are investing hugely to develop these communities, considering the fact that we are making conscious efforts to grow our tourism and travel industry into a melting pot.

Sustainable tourism implies that a tourist who visits a place tries to make positive impact on the environment, society and economy as well. There are a good number of ways to do this: respect the people who call the location home, their culture and customs and the socio-economic system in the area. While it is not surprising that often times people tend to confuse sustainable tourism with ecotourism, whereas ecotourism is actually an aspect of sustainable tourism; this article will focus on the economic importance of ecological tourism (ecotourism).

Tourism has many merits, no doubt. One of its demerits is that it causes damage on the environment. Ecotourism, on the other hand, seeks to promote responsible travel to natural areas that protect the environment and advance the prosperity of the local people. It aims to provide a fun, relaxing vacation while protecting the surrounding ecosystem. It often works to train and engage the participants in an eco-friendly lifestyle. The adverse effects of hotels, trails and other infrastructure are reduced through the use of either recycled supplies or abundantly existing local building materials, recycling, renewable sources of energy and safe disposal of waste and refuse. If well managed, ecotourism will contribute actively to the maintenance of natural and cultural heritage, namely, inclusion of local and indigenous communities in its planning, development and operation, which reduces poverty and enhances intercultural & environmental understanding.

As a responsible traveler who is interested in minimizing the negative impacts of his tour and if you take special interest in local nature and cultures, ecotourism should appeal to you. Remote areas, whether populated or unpopulated and are typically under some kind of environmental protection at different levels are destinations for ecotourism. Regulating the number of tourists and type of behaviour will ensure limited damage to the ecosystem as well as contribute to the minimization of its impact.

Tourists and residents of nearby communities need to be educated before departure through reading materials about the country they are visiting, location and the people, as well as a code of conduct for both the traveler and the industry. This information helps prepare the tourists.

Well-trained, multilingual naturalist guides serve to educate members of the neighboring community, students and the larger community in the host country. To do so, entrance and lodge fees for nationals must be reduced and free educational travels for indigenous students and those living near the tourist attraction should be encouraged.

In addition, it also helps increase funds for ecological protection, investigation and education through a selection of apparatuses, including park entrance fees, tour companies, hotels, hotel booking portals like Jumia Travel, airlines and airport taxes and voluntary contributions.

National parks and other conservation areas will only subsist if there are “happy people” around their borders. The inclusion and participation of the local community is critical to the success of ecotourism. These communities should receive proceeds and other physical benefits (potable water, roads, hospitals, etc.) from the conservation area and its tourist amenities. Campgrounds, hotels, chaperon services, restaurants and other enterprises should be run by or in partnership with communities surrounding a park or other tourist destinations.

For ecotourism to be seen as a tool for rural development, total economic and political control must be given to the communal, township, cooperative, or entrepreneur. This is the most challenging and time wasting idea in the economic equation and the one that foreign operators most often let it slip through the cracks or that they follow only partially or formally.

Tourism helps in building international understanding and world peace although this does not happen automatically; frequently in fact, tourism strengthens the economies of repressive and high-handed states. Mass tourism pays scarce attention to the political structure of the host country or struggles within it, unless civil unrest escapes into outbreaks on tourists. Ecotourism demands a more holistic method to travel, one in which participants try to respect, study about and profit both the local environment and local communities.

In many emerging countries, rural residents around national parks and other ecotourism attractions are sealed in contests with the government and transnational corporations for control of the assets. Eco-tourists should therefore be sensitive to the host country’s political environment and social climate and need to contemplate the merits of global boycotts called for by those supportive of democratic reforms.

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