|dc.description.abstract||Ecotourism is a popular form of alternative tourism that is combined with elements of sustainable tourism. Spread of ecotourism in the world since the 1980s coincided with a tourism industry boom in the Maldives.
The Maldives has been unable to embrace ecotourism widely because of controversial issues within tourism (e.g. sensitivity to balance nature alongside rapid developments). A lack of recognition of the importance of ecotourism and a knowledge gap about the potential of ecotourism as a diversified tourism product are some key reasons why ecotourism is underdeveloped in the Maldives. However, continued debates and extensive research in ecotourism have produced some significant outcomes that eliminate the misconceptions that exist about general ecotourism. It is evident that several coastal and island destinations have successfully embraced ecotourism with minimal disturbance to the environment. To some extent, all forms of tourism have an impact on the environment. Not all tourism development is guided by best practice to restrain damage to the environment. Preservation of the environment is central to the economic prosperity of some small island nations such as the Maldives.
This research examines the demand and perception of ecotourism by analysing nature-based tourism experiences in the Maldives. A quantitative survey is employed in eleven resort operations that target the international tourist population on holiday. Several of these operations offer ecotourism-related experiences together with lesser ecotourism-oriented experiences, yet nature-based, tourism experiences. This research addresses the factors that contribute to visitor holiday experiences, purpose of visit, information delivery about environmental/ecotourism education, tourist satisfaction, and environmental concerns about the Maldives and environment in a global context. In particular, visitor environmental values are examined using the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) scale.
The core results indicate that it is important to recognise the potential that the Maldives’ natural assets have for ecotourism development, especially the diverse marine resources. Most visitors to the Maldives considered the destination to be an ecotourism destination, felt that they had experienced ecotourism and were satisfied with their holiday experience. These factors suggest that a niche market in ecotourism can be tapped to diversify the Maldives’ current tourism markets.
As a mechanism to establish ecotourism, this research suggests the implementation of an environmentally-holistic, strategic planning approach, assessing, strengthening and producing environmental/ecotourism education/information for hosts, guests and tourism stakeholders; and the minimisation of infrastructure development while maximising commercial and community benefits. Most importantly, continuous monitoring and evaluation of conservation management is vital for successful ecotourism development, especially in remote areas where international tourism could contribute to conservation and bring positive outcomes for community development. This research concludes that with knowledge enhancement, ecotourism could play a pragmatic role in advocating conservation and resource sustainability if it is appropriately adapted to the context.
Finally, the findings from the NEP endorse the fact that visitors have a strong concern for the environment. The rationale of the current study is that with the dynamic evolution of tourism, visitors tend towards an ecocentric worldview. This implies that there is a latent market for ecotourism experiences in the Maldives.||en_NZ