Ecotourism has great potential to benefit local communities and aid in conservation of natural resources. Ecotourism generally involves drawing visitors to enjoy the natural resources and ecosystems of an area while promoting environmental conservation and community well-being (see reference 1). Examples of ecotourism services include guided hikes into natural areas, naturalist-led kayaking trips or simply offering accommodations and amenities such as transportation for visitors seeking to responsibly explore a natural area. Developing ecotourism opportunities in a particular area or building an ecotourism business requires research, planning and community partnerships (see reference 2).
Identify ecotourism potential. While tourism is the world's largest industry, not all areas are equally suited for successful ecotourism development. Potential business operators or local development organizations must have a clear picture of specific ecotourism draws and activities. Examine questions such as: What does this place offer in terms of natural areas? Why will tourists be attracted to the area? What services or activities can a business offer that responsibly explores the natural environment? How can ecotourism benefit the environment and the local community?
Conduct market research. Determine whether a demand for ecotourism services in the local area exists or can realistically be developed. Ecotourism relies in large part on a population of visitors with disposable incomes. Potential business owners must assess the area's potential to draw tourists and decide how to meet the demands of their visiting population (see reference 1). You should also research your potential competitors to determine who offers servicers similar to yours.
Develop a business plan. Whether starting up a new ecotourism venture or changing the structure of an existing business, a business plan will help guide your efforts. A business plan is a tool that provides communication, management and planning information to investors, employees, local communities and business owners (see reference 1). A business plan for ecotourism should include information on how the business will protect, rather than exploit, the local environment and how it will benefit the community (see reference 2).
Market ecotourism services. Businesses or multi-business/community partnerships need to reach out to potential customers to advertise the particular area as an ecotourism destination and the specific services available. Target marketing efforts in outlets used by potential customers such as travel or outdoor magazines or environmental publications. Partner with other businesses that would benefit from increased ecotourism revenue to share marketing cost and efforts.
Grow and expand ecotourism services. Businesses and development organizations should work together to grow opportunities for ecotourism. Within an area, several niche markets for ecotour activities and services can likely be identified and expanded to grow the region's recognition as an ecotourism destination.
Be wary of tourism development models that exploit, rather than enhance, the natural environment, local communities or indigenous groups. True ecotourism can help protect sensitive ecosystems, but irresponsible tourism can damage an area (see reference 3).