"We cannot love nature to death" : an evaluation of the implementation of Nature’s Best ecotourism certification in Sweden
Abstract: Ecotourism is the concept of traveling responsibly to natural areas where the environment and the well-being of the local people are sustained, where the economic profit is reinvested in the area and where knowledge is communicated to decrease visitor impact and maintain the local environment. Ecotourism is the fastest growing segment of the global tourism industry and therefore it is important to have an efficient implementation strategy so that it can realize its full potential and thus prevent tourism from degrading the nature it depends on. The general aim of this study is to understand the process of transforming ecotourism theory into practice. More specifically this thesis studies the implementation of the Swedish ecotourism certification, Nature’s Best, from theory to practice, by examining the process of adoption and implementation by five certified ecotourism operators. The research design is based on mixed methods, as a document analysis was used to analyze the criteria of the certification, and semistructured qualitative interviews were performed to investigate the implementation strategy among the operators. The results of this study show that Nature’s Best acts as a mechanism for the transfer of knowledge about the principles of ecotourism and how to implement these principles in practice. The study finds that the less experienced operators use the certification process and criteria to transition their business into more sustainable practices, while the more experienced operators use the certification as a quality-marker for their sustainability work. Once certified, the operators transfer their knowledge to the visitors as they discuss sustainability in relation to the local nature, where sustainability related topics are discussed in innovative ways using relatable examples. By creating a positive experience of nature, the goal of ecotourism is to develop interest and respect for nature among the tourists which has the potential to encourage pro-environmental behavior. However, several of the operators within this study argue that systems structures, time-constraints and lack of awareness hinders the potential of ecotourism, as they are limited in their ability to decrease the direct and indirect negative impacts on the environment related to tourism in general, such as transportation.
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