Jeju is in the midst of promoting itself to the world by utilizing its unique environment as the vehicle and in doing so the terms ecotourism and geotourism have become prominent applications affixed to nature tourist sites. To most who have heard of these terms they appear to be interchangeable, even their definitions do not seem to shed much light on their differences.
According to the international Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is defined as the “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people,” while geotourism is defined as “Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”
Where these two terms diverge is inherent within their prefixes. While ecotourism is concerned specifically with ecology and the preservation of nature, geotourism is concerned with the geographical area, which, not only includes the environment, but encompasses culture, cuisine and the arts.
Along with the idea of preservation, both terms have political principles, though this is where the distinctions between the two drastically differ. Some of the lesser known aspects of ecotourism are that the mandate stipulates that a site must “Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people,” as well as, “Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate.” In terms of geotourism, it emphasizes a strong community presence, since it is cultural-centric. All sites that wish to earn the geotourism status must rely upon community resources as much as possible, as well as encourage local small businesses and civic groups to participate in its management, ensuring that the site is as culturally authentic as possible.
Ecotourism, as the definition states, is about the preservation of the environment, while simultaneously creating income for local residents. Geo-tourism, on the other hand, groups both categories (environment and community) together and views them as a whole. If an area is solely rich in environmental assets than it qualifies for eco-tourism, but if the site has a unique or prevalent culture as well as important ecological finds, than geotourism is the term applied.
To achieve either status the host destination must apply to either the International Ecotourism Society or, for geotourism, to the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations. For the geotourism term to be awarded the site must adhere to the 13 stipulations of the geotourism charter. For ecotourism the location must provide proof that the tourism aspect of the site is unique, that results have already been achieved to increase worldwide social awareness concerning the specific environment and that the tourism attraction is self-sustainable.
With Jeju applying a full-court press on trying to rebrand the island as an environment-friendly location, it is good to understand the distinctions between the two terms, because, from the looks of it, they will be popping up everywhere.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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