How effective are impact assessment procedures for ecotourism in developing nations? A case study analysis
By the late 1980s, ecotourism became officially recognised as a sustainable development strategy, and a way to improve the quality of life of marginalised communities. Yet today it is still a field of contested discourses and paradigms, especially in developing countries, where environmental legislation is still often ambiguous and not powerful enough to ensure enforcement of the outcomes of planning and assessment instruments. It has been argued that impact assessment procedures are not only meant to identify potential impacts of a proposed development, but should endorse responsible environmental management practices, and active community involvement in the decision-making process. This study compares the theory and practice behind ecotourism assessment and management of the La Escobilla Turtle Sanctuary and the Xixim Ecolodge through the analysis of initial project impact assessments, semi-structured interviews with representatives of different sectors of Mexican society, and a survey of tour operators. It aims to determine whether or not current Mexican environmental legislation for assessment procedures is providing an adequate framework for the adoption of sustainable tourism practices. It is argued that impact assessment procedures often poorly incorporate social and cultural variables, and hence fail to acknowledge tour operators' management and operation skills, and therefore decrease the quality of impact prediction and monitoring strategies for future ecotourism management.