Ecotourism – Zip It!


July 24, 2014 by John Crapper



1. Tourism involving travel to areas of natural or ecological interest, typically under the guidance of a naturalist, for the purpose of observing wildlife and learning about the environment.

2. Tourism which is designed to contribute to the protection of the environment or at least minimize damage to it, often involving travel to areas of natural interest in developing countries or participation in environmental projects

3. Tourism to exotic or threatened ecosystems to observe wildlife or to help preserve nature

Everywhere you go these days you see tour companies and travel agencies, cruise lines, and resorts tout their practice of ecotourism.

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Ecoquest Adventures & Tours specializes in organizing adventures and tours to interesting and exciting destinations in Puerto Rico. Our excursions include ziplining, rappelling, hiking, kayaking and canopy bridges.

An excerpt from the blog World Changing. http://www.worldchanging.com/

English: A zip-line over the rainforest canopy...

A zip-line over the rainforest canopy in Costa Rica.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The View From Eco-Tourism’s Birthplace

If you know Costa Rica from anything other than first-hand experience, this is probably what you know: it is a pioneer in the field of eco-tourism. Costa Rica has long been regarded as a model of sustainable tourism development, a deep-green nation in many senses of the word, beginning with the dense foliage that blankets its rugged terrain. What exactly it is that puts the eco in eco-tourism, however, is less obvious at close range.

Though the brochure image of Costa Rica is often rainforest-themed, the sandy beaches and world-class surf of the Central Pacific has seen considerable development in recent years, including a giant Marriott resort complex further up the coast called Los Suenos, around which were constructed several cliffside enclaves of timeshare townhouses. One of these – a secluded, picturesque spot over a steep hill several kilometres past the Marriott and several more from any non-resort services – was my homebase in Costa Rica. And so whatever else eco-tourism meant, for me it meant constant commuting in a 4WD Suzuki Grand Vitara. This seemed to be a pretty common predicament for the would-be eco-tourist – whether by Grand Vitara or chartered minibus or (in more remote enclaves) rented ATV, eco-tourism in Costa Rica today is largely a commuter affair…

In Costa Rica, eco-tourism is, to begin with, a brand. Every other collection of beachfront villas calls itself an “eco-lodge” or “eco-resort” in Costa Rica, and just about every tourist activity drapes itself in imagery of pristine rainforest canopies and rainbow-beaked toucans. Perhaps the strangest use of the prefix was the collection of outsized timeshare villas next to the Marriott resort’s back nine that called itself “Eco-Golf Estates.” (On the other hand, I saw more toucans and iguanas on the Marriott’s back nine than I did on my tour of the rain-soaked jungle canopy at the Rainmaker Conservation Project, so maybe eco-golf isn’t an oxymoron after all. It was a shorter drive too.)

In any case, the promise of Costa Rican eco-tourism has, in many locales, been boiled down to a single awkward institution: the zipline canopy tour. There seem to be a dozen on offer just in the Jaco area, and I partook of one on a previous visit a few years ago. Each provides about the same experience. The “tour” invariably consists of a series of platforms mounted on towering tree trunks high in the rainforest canopy. These are linked by long steel cables and traversed at high speed by yelping eco-tourists, who dangle from the cables by industrial-grade climbing harnesses like overly safety-conscious Tarzans.

As the above examples show zip lining is touted as eco-tourism. Why? Is it because your feet don’t hit the ground? Is it because it requires no footpath to be constructed? How about what is required to provide this tourist activity. Aren’t towers built to provide the platforms from which to zip? Aren’t they made from wood or metal? How about the cable and harnesses. How much energy and resources are used in their production? How are the tourists transported to the beginning of the zip line trip? Isn’t it always up and isn’t a vehicle always used to take people up?

Do zippers ever hike up to zip down? What about the noise pollution? The sound of the sliding cables and the screams of the tourists as the thrill of zipping overwhelms them. Is this ecologically friendly? It it less noise than old-fashioned hiking? And isn’t zip lining just one more additional tourist activity disturbing the natural environment added to all the previous ones? I don’t think anybody eliminated other forrest activities when zipping came along. No zip lining was in addition to all the others. It resulted in a net increase in human activity disturbing the natural environment. It further reduced the forests ability to sustain itself in its natural undisturbed state.

The fact is zip lining is a new way for the tourism industry to make money. It is a new way for tourists to be thrilled and entertained. And it is a new way to consume resources and disturb nature. The ecotourism activity is in fact very unecological. I point all this out not because I’m so against zip lining. That’s not the point. I point this out to illustrate the contradictions and fallacies of our thinking and how easy it is to fool ourselves into believing something totally different to the actual reality. It’s environmental double-think. The ability to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and believe both are true.

The trouble with man and our relationship with the environment is we want our cake and be able to eat it too. If we want it, we go to great lengths to justify the expenditure of energy and consumption of resources to make it available. At the same time we bemoan the destruction of our environment around us and give lip service to our supposed desire to protect and preserve it. We practice ass-backward double-think. `

To give us a feel good cover we couch our activities in nice sounding words. Tourism and all its exploitative connotations becomes ecotourism and so when we partake in the activity we can more easily justify it and even convince ourselves we are doing something good for the environment.

In actuality most things given the label of ecotourism are in fact just the opposite. From an ass-forward waste-end soft and fluffy perspective they should be told to just zip it on their false claims of being ecological. That especially goes for zip lines.  Claiming this activity is anything close to ecological is a bunch of crap!

English: Zip Line Canopy tour in Jaco Beach. O...

Zip It!   It’s not ecological!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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