Top>Opinion>Ecotourism-Be Eco-Minded!


Masahiro Yabuta

Masahiro Yabuta [Profile]

Ecotourism-Be Eco-Minded!

Masahiro Yabuta
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University and visiting professor at the University of Queensland
Areas of Specialization: Public policy, environmental economics, tourism economics

In any era, looking at nice things (i.e., sightseeing, or tourism) has brought people pleasure. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), growth in tourism exceeds that of other industries and, despite the effects of terrorism, influenza, and on the like, an average growth rate of 4.1% is forecast from 1995 to 2020, with the number of international tourists set to triple from the 500 million recorded in 1995 to an estimated 1.5 billion in 2020. Tourism really is undergoing a long-term boom. But just as economic growth has its merits and demerits, so does the growth in tourism present a number of problems. Here I discuss the topic of ecotourism.

Tourism has always been important for this country. The fictitious story of Yaji and Kita, two characters in the Edo era on a pilgrimage to Ise Shrine, is commonly known among the Japanese, and sightseeing continues today to be a source of local revitalization through human interaction. The Meiji era saw development in international tourism, before the big boom in tourism that occurred in the early Showa era. Soon after World War Two, various special laws were brought in to promote post-war urban reconstruction through the development of sightseeing and hot spring assets and international cultural assets. After the Tourism Basic Act (1963), came the Tourism Nation Promotion Basic Law, introduced in 2007 with the aim of creating a tourism nation, one year after which the Japan Tourism Agency was established. The number of tourists travelling abroad rose particularly sharply from the late 1980's, fueled by a strong yen and Japan's asset price bubble economy, until the gap with the number of tourists visiting Japan increased to more than 10 million. For this reason, the focus of macro tourism policy was constantly on increasing the numbers of tourists from overseas, hence the launch of the Visit Japan campaign. On a micro level, however, the places visited by tourists are regions in Japan such as Kyoto, Okinawa, or Hachioji (Mount Takao). Needless to say, regions are important focal points. How can a balance be struck between regional level and macro-level tourism development? It would seem that the key is the development of ecotourism, or sustainable tourism.

In the late 1980's, domestic-demand expansion policies were implemented in order to reduce Japan's large current account surplus. Although this was one cause of the bubble economy, in terms of tourism, the intention was to redevelop land through the Law for Development of Comprehensive Resort Areas (Resort Act) in an area including no less than 18% of national territory. However, systemic problems and the collapse of the bubble economy meant that most plans were cut back or terminated halfway. Excess investment has cast many shadows such as failed regional economies and environmental issues. These are the consequence of macro tourism policy leadership with a lack of regional and micro-level perspective. Since the end of the bubble era, there have been continuing attempts to enhance human interaction between cities and rural communities using the keywords region, experience, and visit, such as the 1994 Act for the Promotion of Infrastructure Development for Leisure Activities in Rural Areas (Green Tourism Act). Meanwhile, there has been a significant movement internationally. After the Earth Summit in 1992, there were calls for the development of a new kind of tourism in regional areas (mostly in developing countries) called ecotourism, which is aimed at environmental conservation and regional development, and various actions were taken, establishing 2002 as International Ecotourism Year. With ongoing regional decline, environmental degradation, and the need to develop sustainable tourism for future generations, there was no choice but to move from the prioritization of development towards environmentally conscious tourism. This meant that tourism could no longer be planned and operated in a sustainable way without taking a regional and environmental view.

The Law for the Promotion of Ecotourism established in 2008 was pivotal in marking the beginning of this move. This law was an attempt to create a framework of collaboration among the various local actors for the purpose of promoting environmentally conscious tourism. Various terms have emerged such as ecotourism and sustainable tourism, and the different studies carried out to realize and further develop them recommend the creation of policies and systems. With the cooperation of the regional people concerned, how can environmentally conscious tourism sites be provided, and how can the system and economic framework that they require be managed and operated? In addition to these aspects of providing tourism sites, surveys have been done into things such as environmentally conscious ways that tourists can behave, the educational benefits of environmental conservation, and so on. Good visitors make a good environment, and a good environment can also cultivate good visitors. In that sense, it is vital that the Law for the Promotion of Ecotourism includes the ideal of environmental education which is concerned with raising environmental awareness.

In confronting global environmental issues, of course we must make an effort to protect regional natural tourism resources to achieve sustainable tourism. But pursuing principles is always difficult. The Galapagos Islands, placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2007 and restored in 2010, are an example of one of the downsides of tourism development. This case is a lesson in the difficulty of combining tourism development with nature conservation. The reality is that most tourism sites suffer from the same kind of problem, and while advocating ecotourism, it would appear that we are also causing something else. We need to make ecotourism truly ecologically sound.

Masahiro Yabuta
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University and visiting professor at the University of Queensland
Fields of specialization: Public policy, environmental economics, tourism economics
Masahiro Yabuta was born in Iwate Prefecture in 1954. He completed his cource program of the PhD in Economics at Kyushu University, Graduate School of Economics, and holds a PhD in Economics. He later held the post of Professor at Fukuoka University and has held his current post from 1999 to the present day. He is concurrently serving as a visiting professor at the School of Tourism, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, University of Queensland (till the end of March 2011). Professor Yabuta's current research, chiefly from a common-pool perspective, is on issues of how to establish sustainable tourism, which aims to combine tourist development with environmental conservation, and regional governance in planning and operation. His publications include Common-Pool Public Policy (Shinhyoron, 2004), and Environmental and Resource Economics (Keisoshobo, 2007, coeditor). He has participated in a great deal of regional environmental planning, serving as Setagaya City Cleaning and Recycling Committee Member, Tama City Environment Committee Chairperson, Inagi City Environment Committee Chairperson, and more.