Market niches are like teenagers: they redefine themselves every now and then, just to make sure you're paying attention. However, the latest redefinition of sustainable tourism, called "Geo-tourism", appears to be a genuine improvement. Geotourism includes new nuances in order for locations to qualify: The Travel Industry Association of America defines it as being Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of the place being visited - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents. (The bit about the residents wasn't there in earlier definitions of eco-tourism.)
National Geographic elaborates by saying Geotourism "emphasizes the distinctiveness of its locale, beneficial to visitor and resident alike", and has an official list of Geotourism Principles, which include:
Community involvement: Base tourism on community resources to the extent possible, encouraging local small businesses and civic groups to build partnerships to promote and provide a distinctive, honest visitor experience and market their locales effectively...
Community benefit: Encourage micro-to medium-size enterprises and tourism business strategies that emphasize economic and social benefits to involved communities, especially poverty alleviation, with clear communication of the destination stewardship policies required to maintain those benefits.
Protection and enhancement of destination appeal: Encourage businesses to sustain natural habitats, heritage sites, aesthetic appeal, and local culture. Prevent degradation by keeping volumes of tourists within maximum acceptable limits. Seek business models that can operate profitably within those limits...
Land use: Anticipate development pressures and apply techniques to prevent undesired overdevelopment and degradation...
Evaluation: Establish an evaluation process to be conducted on a regular basis by an independent panel representing all stakeholder interests, and publicize evaluation results.
Michigan State University's Tourism Resource Center points out that this and other flavors of eco-tourism are a good business to get into: "over 50% of U.S. tourists fit nicely into the geo-tourist category, and these tourists are especially active travelers with relatively high incomes. Their share of total domestic travel expenditures far exceeds the 50% share of tourists they collectively represent."
The first country to announce an official Geotourism strategy is Honduras.
And the result is clear ... there are is a lot of confusing banter about both terms.
Don't get me wrong, I love the concepts behind both ... and what 'geotourism' offers is explicit recognition and value of cultural heritage. Cities will embrace this, particularly as it is has the stamp of approval of the Society.
What remains to be seen is whether its promotion in Central America will work. Honduras is great at advancing big plans and then doing nothing. Likewise, National Geographic was a big supporter of the "Mundo Maya" project which also sounded great on paper ... though the multinational project has yet to put the Maya in charge or in positions of authority.
More reflections on tourism definitions
Geotourism is nothing more than an attempt to privatise the concept of Ecotourism. And it will soon be forgotten.
As the founder and CEO of The International Ecotourism Society for 12 of its 15 years, I was surprised to see the National Geographic make this overt effort to brand its own version ecotourism and create a market niche in its own image. I would not assume that this will not be successful. As a inveterate market researcher, I have already used the research made available by NGS and TIA regarding this market, and have summarized it for clients in the U.S. seeking to understand how to develop their destinations. I think geotourism is broader than ecotourism and may well have different applications. While I don't love the idea of creating another niche, I think the reality of the matter is that it has already arrived and will become part of our lexicon.
Here in OZ we have for the last few years seen the "regional X" marketing/targeting efforts happening. e.g. regional cuisine is popular, as are wildflower seasons, whale watching etc.
While it's another "rose by any other name" (or some may say - "throw enough mud at the wall"), with the branding that NG can give it, it may be the thing that will capture the imagination of local govt.
As a result, developers who have avoided, been close minded or have previously been greenwashers, will have to incorporate the concepts into their development applications and projects, especially in urban areas, where loss of natural habitat and green open space is galloping along quite merrily.
IMO, as long as the focus is on method and outcome, who cares what name it goes by?
Season's Greetings, Peace and well-being ...