Strengthening The Link Between Conservation and Sustainable Development: Can Ecotourism Be a Catalyst? The Case of Monviso Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Italy
Abstract: The dichotomy of conservation vs. sustainable development has generated numerous debates since the introduction of the latter in the late 1980s. When UNESCO introduced the Biosphere Reserve concept in the early ‘70s, it drew even more attention to the matter. In the recent past, many initiatives to address the issue gained ground not only across Europe, but worldwide. This is the case of ecotourism, a responsible (and sustainable) form of tourism that takes place in natural areas, sustains local communities, and involves a learning experience. Even though it might look like the perfect tool to strengthen the link between conservation and sustainable development, especially in a Biosphere Reserve context, ecotourism faces many challenges. Through a case study of an Italian Biosphere Reserve that was recently awarded with the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism, Monviso Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, this research aimed at understanding local stakeholders’ stand onthe matter. A series of interviews were conducted and subsequently phenomenologically analysed to explore the possibility for ecotourism to act as a learning tool for sustainable development. Results show that ecotourism had some positive effects in the area, such as the creation of a network for collaboration between various stakeholders, among others. However, negative perception of ecotourism still play an inhibiting role, as it is not perceived asa sufficient source of income. It is discussed that this might be a consequence of two main factors: a lack of proper environmental education and the economic crisis the country is currently facing. Adjustments in the language and methods used in the educational system and a change of course at higher governmental levels might foster ecotourism to become a catalyst by being a learning tool.
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