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Can Ecotourism Save Indonesia’s Disappearing Forests? (Page 4 of 4)

With financial incentives for conservation, the community has transformed the area into an ecotourism destination. This has led to job creation, with various roles required to run their tourism office and multiple tour packages. LPT’s website states that just a decade ago, the area was an exit point for illegal logging in the national park. With its stunning scenery and clear rivers, however, the community began to realize the potential for income from appreciative visitors.

Jessica McKelson, Director of Raw Wildlife Encounters, launched her ecotourism initiative in 2008 and said the livelihood of local people is a core pillar for why the company operates. “They are custodians of the lands that surround their communities, where we bring guests to visit, they allow us to enjoy these areas and we offer employment opportunities from guides to rangers to administration as well as education programs so they can comfortably support their families and don’t have to work in legal, or illegal, logging or palm oil and can live sustainably. Most have lost all their natural resources to deforestation practices and were left with no option but working for $8-$10 per day in terrible conditions or losing that job to transmigrants.”

Since the business started, McKelson says that 85% of gross earnings have gone to community and environmental programs. “This community-based eco-tourism model provides local people with stable, consistent income without damaging their own backyards and the wildlife and ecosystems within it. It’s conservation through empowering and educating the community. A win-win for all!”

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Along with economic benefits for local people, there is the added bonus of conservation-based skills transfer from NGOs to the community. Describing the Tangkahan initiative, The International Ecotourism Society says that skills like “ecotourism development and management, planning and policy development, conservation management, and monitoring and assessment” were merged with Karo culture and values “to ensure community ownership of the initiative and equality in the distribution of benefits.” Raw Wildlife Encounters also offers guide training to the Tangkahan community to support sustainable management that is consistent with standards set out by The International Ecotourism Society.

In promoting ecotourism, emphasis must be placed on ethical management to ensure it does not transform into mass tourism, void of eco-values. McKelson says Bukit Lawang in Sumatra is an example of this. She explains that tourists ignore conventions about avoiding contact with orangutans and even pay bribes to local guides for a close encounter and the chance to feed them, which becomes encouraged by guides keen for the extra cash.

Despite the cases of mismanagement, she says, “Eco tourism in Indonesia can be a great employment model to protect natural resources via an alternative sustainable livelihood.” In other words, a step in the direction of building economies that do not come at the expense of the environment.

Gemima Harvey (@Gemima_Harvey) is a freelance journalist and photographer.

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