An Alternative View of Ecotourism with a Specific Reference to Turkey

An Alternative View of Ecotourism with a Specific Reference to Turkey 

In: I. Agresi (ed.) Alternative Tourism in Turkey, pp. 34-41, London: Springer International Publishing, 2017 (with N. Erdoğan).

Nazmiye Erdoğan and İrfan Erdoğan


Ecotourism has become the focal point of a wide range discussions and interests of private and public sectors, policy makers, academicians, researchers, local people and environmentalists. Many scholars and researchers uphold the widely avowed nature of ecotourism that is based on the idea that ecotourism is to use natural and cultural resources in a sustainable way and to enable economic development of local people as well as sustainable natural resource management. Not every scholar and researcher share this view, because from the beginning onwards, ecotourism has become a widely debated issue because of the discrepancies in the stated objectives and practices throughout the world. Especially, concepts such as poverty alleviation and stakeholder participation, contributions to local culture and life, and objectives of local, national and international investors, hotel industry, tourism agencies and state organizations have been heavily and critically scrutinized and debated. This chapter was designed to provide an alternative evaluation of and discussion on the nature of ecotourism with specific reference to Turkey.

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Ecotourism has become the focal point of a wide range discussions and interests of private and public sectors, policy makers, academicians, researchers, local people and environmentalists all over the world. The widely avowed objectives of ecotourism is based on the idea that ecotourism aims at sustainable and responsible use of natural and cultural resources, contributes economic development of local people and natural resource management, enhances social cohesion and environmental awareness, preserves cultural and natural heritages as well as minimizes undesirable effects emanating from prevailing tourism practices. Not every scholar and researcher shares this view. Benefits of ecotourism are widely debated, because of the discrepancies between the widely publicized objectives and practices throughout the world. Concepts and claims such as poverty alleviation and stakeholder participation, contributions to local culture and life, and objectives of local, national and international investors, hotel industry, tourism agencies and state organizations have been heavily scrutinized and debated. Thus, this chapter started with brief popular and alternative explanations and evaluations of ecotourism. Then, the current status and foremost aspects of ecotourism in Turkey were presented. Doing so, the following main parties involved in ecotourism were studied. (a) ecotourism business; sales, production, distribution and service activities in ecotourism in terms of their structures, stated policies, objectives and nature and outcome of their daily ecotourism practices; (b) local destinations; character, position and function local destinations in ecotourism; (c) connection between local destinations and environmental principles of ecotourism; (d) Ecotourists; Customers of ecotourism and allied industries, and users of destinations; (e) The legal control and promotion of ecotourism: The progress and current situation in ecotourism policy of Turkish state; (f) Environmental policy of tourism and allied sectors; and (g) Academic involvement; Prevailing nature of academic interest on ecotourism finally, a brief summary conclusion was presented. 

General Background on the Nature of Ecotourism 

The term “ecotourism” was introduced in the 1960s. According to the Internationals Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is now defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education" (TIES 2015). Ecotourism has been widely proclaimed as economically viable and environmentally sustainable alternative to mass tourism, because, according to proponents, (a) it has minimal negative impacts on nature and culture, at worst; (b) it facilitates conservation and biodiversity; (c) it carries and spreads environmental and cultural awareness; (e) it generates revenues for service providers and local investors; (f) it enhances socio-economic well-being of the local community. 

If the above statements/claims were true, there would be no need for the following principles of ecotourism listed by the TIES in 2015 that include (a) minimizing physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts, (b) recognizing rights and spiritual beliefs of local people, (c) building environmental and cultural awareness and respect, (d) providing financial benefits for conservation and local community, (e) delivering memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates; and (f) working in partnership with them to create empowerment. 

There are increasing examples of sustainable practices by especially large companies. They bring such practices because they make good images for the business, reduce costs and improve efficiencies, manage risks and meet emerging legal and regulatory requirements, engage staff in corporate social responsibility which are promoted as (a) a key driver of employee satisfaction, (b) means of competitive advantage by offering differentiating experiences to customers, (c) instrument in meeting emerging consumer trends, and (d) sustainer of company by protecting the environment on which it depends (CREST 2015). 

As ecotourism has witnessed a continuous expansion, it has become highly influential and complex sets of activities. New concepts and feature are added to the definitions such as responsibility, environmentally friendly destination management and sustainable development of local populations (Torquebiau and Taylor 2009). It is presented as preferable form of tourism and said that it contributes to local and regional economic development, benefits and empowers local communities, provides environmental conservation and scientific research, protects wildlife, endangered species and fragile ecosystems, educates and creates widespread environmental awareness among people, tourists and tourism industry, and fosters world peace (Kelkit et al. 2009, Hsu and Lin 2013, Honey 2008). It is given importance by many developing countries hoping to improve their economies in an environmentally sustainable manner (Coria and Calfucura 2013, Libosada 2009). Concurrently, multitudes of activities have emerged in order to generate market expansion and increase tourist demand for ecotourism. Tour operators, tourism agencies and related food and beverage, transportation, travel and accommodation sectors have included rural and natural areas in their field of activities. Tourism investors have expanded their ventures beyond the seashores and moved to rural areas and inside the wilderness, protected areas and national parks. Concurrently, the need for and activities of demand creation and expansion for ecotourism have increased tremendously. Governments, bureaucrats, academicians and business people in developing countries have started considering ecotourism as an engine of growth, and source of foreign exchange and employment to revive the national and local economy (Anup et al. 2015). Precious resources have been diverted to the provision of airports, local transport, infrastructure and hotels with a view to creating a niche of their own in the international ecotourism market. Natural forests have been encroached by expanding tourism activities. Old houses and attractive physical environment in rural areas, and old towns and historical neighborhoods in cities have been renovated. People in some places have been removed from their lands and houses, and investors who have close (mostly financial) relations with high ranking officials in governing bodies have moved in, and eye-catching environments have been created in the name of historical, cultural or natural authenticity in order to attract domestic and international tourists. As a result of increased interest, ecotourism has become one of the fast growing businesses throughout the world: The UNWTO in 2012 predicts that ecotourism, nature, heritage, cultural and “soft adventure” tourism will grow rapidly over the next two decades and global spending on ecotourism is expected to increase at a higher rate than the tourism industry as a whole (CREST 2015).

Meanwhile, ecotourism activities have also prompted serious debates on every aspect of ecotourism. According to TIES which is one of the most active proponents of ecotourism, “the term ecotourism is widely recognized and used, but it is also abused, as it is not sufficiently anchored to the definition. The ecotourism community, therefore, continues to face significant challenges in awareness building and education and actively working against green- washing within the tourism industry.... More governments have developed ecotourism strategies, but not all have been well integrated into mainstream tourism and environmental policies, or supported by action” (TIES 2007). Some critics stated that ecotourism is simply a permutation within a neoliberal conservation agenda (Fletcher 2012, Igoe and Brockington 2007). Fletcher (2012), in his study put forward that ecotourism cannot help but exacerbate the very inequalities it purports to address. In ecotourism, every cultural values and natural entities become commodities and local people become cheap labor in the process of ecotourism activities (West et al. 2006). It is an integrated part of a global economic restructuring that is designed to facilitate and expand tourism industry and allied industries beyond the confines of time (seasonal activity) and space (travel to seashores) (Erdoğan 2003, Horton 2009, Hunt and Stronza 2011, Kiss 2004). 

Ecotourism in Turkey

Turkey has a richness which is in a level incomparable to other countries in terms of its natural assets such as mountains, forests, highlands, 8,000 km long coasts, lakes, streams, its 9000 species of which 3000 is endemic and 420 bird species, and fascinating geological formations such as caves and canyons. This natural wealth put Turkey in quite an attractive position for the ecotourism capital (Erdoğan 2015).

Pursuing the neo-liberal policies of the economics of globalization, Turkey, adopted ecotourism as an additional economic growth strategy to tourism since 1980s. The 1982 Tourism Encouragement Law provided various promotion and support to tourism related establishments. A detailed incentive system was introduced and expanded later. Governments have played an active role in tourism development by means of fiscal and monetary instruments. 

In Turkey, the central government decides on the nature and scope of planning, promotion and policy making in ecotourism. 

Ecotourism as business 

Ecotourism refers to tightly interacting and closely interrelated professional activities of business enterprises. That’s why structure of the (eco)tourism sector is a complicated one since it includes many interrelated parts that encompass almost every industrial, economic, cultural, political administrative structure. However, it primarily includes travel agencies, tour operators, tour guides, local, national and international transportation, and accommodation, catering and recreation services. All these are locally, nationally and internationally organized business entities in varying size, power and influence. 

Tourism accommodations

Tourism accommodations are organized under various types and their structure varies even within the same type. The most accommodations are organized as hotels, motels, holiday villages, boarding houses, camp grounds, apart hotels, guest houses and bungalows in Turkey. In 2014, there were total 9188 Municipality Licensed, 1117 Tourism Investment Licensed and 3131 Tourism Operation Licenced Accommodation Establishments. There were two mountain house, seven Ranch / Village House and one Mountain Pasture House with Tourism Operation Licence TURSAB 2015b). Total number of the persons that stayed in facilities with operation license was 40,9 million. 23.7 million tourists were foreigners while the remaining 17.2 million were Turkish tourists (Ministry of Culture and Tourism 2015).

Tourism accommodations show two main organizational trends: There are multitudes of small firms and there are vertical and horizontal integrations. The tourism multinationals have their own extensions and branch offices of their parent companies at every important destination in Turkey. There are quite powerful hotel and vacation village chains in the integrated structure of the Turkish tourism industry. There are also large national independent hotel and vacation village chains, of which a few operate hotels in different Mediterranean, Balkan and Turkic countries. The big independent local accommodation chains supply quality tourist accommodation to international tourism markets. The main development in Turkish tourism has been the internationalization of firms and their operations in the key European generating markets. Hence, the development of local tourism enterprises is mostly stalled (Erdoğan 2009).


Transportation is the essential link between the tourist generating regions and tourist receiving countries via mostly sky transportation and between main centers and local destinations via mostly land and sea transportation. There are Turkish-owned tour operators in different European countries with private airline investments such as Öger Tour with Atlas Jet, Bentour with MNG Airlines, GTI Tours with Sky Airlines, Birce Tour with Inter Air and Corendon Tour with Corendon Airlines. Turkish Airlines and twelve private airline companies have been operating international and domestic lines, with over 50 thousand seat capacity.

Travel agencies and tour operators

Travel agencies are business organizations (a) embodying the portion of travel industry that provides marketing services and (b) building relations between the product (industry) and consumer (tourists); (c) providing the distribution service as intermediaries. The organizational structure and activities of travel agencies is regulated by The Law 1618 concerning travel agencies. This law and the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies provide the definition of travel agencies and list the services they can offer. Travel agencies are grouped under three categories according to the services they perform (see, TURSAB 2015a) 

Group A agencies: According to the law, group A agencies shall be granted provisional operation license for a period of two years. Provisional operation license of an A group travel agency can be converted to operation license if the agency can obtain within this period of two years certain amount of foreign exchange earnings, as specified by the relevant article of the law. Group A agencies offer and perform all services specified in article 1 of the Law No. 1618. These agencies produce and market all kinds of activities of travel agencies. Group A agencies can also organize tours to foreign countries from Turkey provided that such tours do not exceed % 25 of the amount of foreign exchange they brought from abroad in the previous year, through the tours arranged by them. Foreign travel agencies cannot organize tours to foreign countries from Turkey.

In Turkey, it is hard to distinguish the travel agencies from the tour operators, because some travel agencies act also as tour operators and visa versa. They operate vehicles, offer guided itineraries in a destination with air as well as ground transportation, hotels and other services. They, in their web pages, claim to offer high quality services for all business and holiday trip organizations; flight tickets; hotel reservations, cultural tours, every kind of outdoor activities, daily environment tours, tours, package tours, insurance, car rental, obtaining visas, office/home delivery of tickets, notification of potential travelers for special flights and tours, congress and seminar organizations, fairs, yacht tours, providing tour guides, transfers (from airport to hotel). However, their claims to provide every service don’t mean that they actually provide these services. In fact, they provide very limited services in terms of variety in ecotourism (Erdoğan 2009). 

Group B agencies sell tickets for international land, sea and air transport and tours arranged by group A travel agencies.

Group C agencies organize and market domestic tours for Turkish people in Turkey. The group A agencies provide international services while the group C agencies work at national level.

Group B and C agencies can also carry out the services which are entrusted to them by A group travel agencies. 

Travel agencies must have a business certificate from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and be a member of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB). The right of monitoring the agencies was given to the TURSAB by the law no. 1618. TURSAB is a professional organization having the status of legal person, established by Law in 1972.

The number of agencies is steadily increasing. At the end of 2014, there were 7950 travel agencies including branch offices in nearly all of the Turkish cities (TURSAB 2015b). However, majority of the agencies are located in two or three major cities of mass tourism. 

Turkish travel agencies need a modern management system emphasizing global market expansion and global administration, specialization, convergence, a qualified work force, renewal, research and development and sustainability. 

Furthermore, the very existence of tourism facilities with hotels, lodges bungalows and restaurants do not mean that they are engaging in ecotourism or nature-based tourism. Fencing a large area of land on top of a mountain, organizing tours and daily excursions to remote and natural areas are not sufficient condition for an activity to be called ecotourism. Although, travel agencies have expanded their operations to the rural and natural areas since the expansion of ecotourism, it is rather doubtful if any or some of their operations are eligible to be called ecotourism. Widespread environmental interest has encouraged use of ecotourism as a marketing gimmick to give businesses a green edge on the competition. Misleading advertisements and engaging in marketing activities using names and symbols that provide false images such as “nature with its best”, eco-paradise”, “eco adventure” ,“sole ecofeeling”, “adventure experience.” Promotional activites add “eco” label in front of everything, such as Eco-Rent-A-Car, Eco Taxi, Eco Cinema and Eko Otopark (Erdoğan 2012). Content of Web pages of tourism agencies in Turkey indicate general lack of interest and sensitivity to environment beyond some catchy words. (Erdoğan 2012). 

The natures of daily practices from production to consumption create and sustain certain human and environmental conditions that form the prevailing character of human and environmental conditions. The dominant mode of doing business combined with the lack of environmental consideration, improper facility planning, organization, management and unwanted negative impacts on flora and fauna make it very difficult to have the kind of “ecotourism” that is depicted by the promoters. Regarding general nature of the travel agencies, very few Turkish travel agencies have environmentally oriented structural characteristics. It means that Turkish agencies are in need of structural adjustment to the new tourism environment based on sustainability. 

Local destinations: Mystified, Packaged and Sold 

Local destinations in ecotourism refer to (a) places that ecotourists visit; (b) places that various kinds of businesses use to make money; (c) places that indigenous people live, (d) places of fauna and flora, (e) local material, immaterial human resources that are used for enjoyment by ecotourists and consumed for extraction of profits by businesses. The ecotourism destinations include rich variety of places such as community with its historical life style, national park, pastoral or protected area, mountain, lake or a river. 

Ecotourism for enjoyment and profit from local areas

The evaluations of local destination and impacts of practices of ecotourism establishments on local destinations significantly vary according to the theoretical approach, knowledge and vested interests. That is why, according to some studies in Turkey and other countries, ecotourism generates local jobs via tourism services such as various kinds of restaurants, souvenir shops, eco hotels, eco-lodges, campsites, bungalows, chalets, pensions, cave hotels, guesthouses, homestay accommodations, transport and guiding services. Thus, it provides new sources of income, engenders local empowerment, inculcates a sense of community ownership, local development and new local business opportunities (IUCN 2012, Stronza 2007, Mustika et al. 2012, Reimer and Walter 2013, Seetanah 2011, Nyuapane and Poudel 2011, Jalani 2012). On the other hand, alternative/critical studies focus on the issues such as disruption of local livelihood, external interference in local historical development, economic exploitation of destination, land-grabbing, lost of land, Physical displacement, exacerbation of poverty, causing interior-migration, cultural degeneration, cultural hybridity and cultural annihilation, impacts on flora and fauna, habitat destruction, environmental degradation. 

The basic question here is whether or not ecotourism activities compromise local life, culture and environmental quality for the sake of vested interests of certain industries that are presented as, e.g., national economic prosperity by the governing power structures and relations. That is why the fate of destination depends on the outside interests and policies. The idea of empowerment of local population is forged explanation that disguises the control of outside forces. What remains for local people is to participate, remain silent or take a risk and show some opposition that faces with the forces of law and order. 

In Turkey, too, the development of ecotourism has led to the expectation that local handicrafts, agriculture and services can gain momentum. However, all success stories in Turkey or elsewhere are the success stories of ecotourism investors and service providers, not the success stories of local community in general. Furthermore, explaining success with level of total revenues misleads us, because the important point is not the total gain, but the nature of the distribution of total wealth gained via ecotourism. Success studies in Turkey and elsewhere treat the existence of few local enterprises and “better than nothing employment and income level” as the indicator of local economic development, while ignoring the negatively changing condition of vast majority of local people brought by arrival of ecotourism/tourism. Activities related with land value, capital formation and use of land in local areas in Turkey, unfortunately, present a highly distorted power and interest relations that work against the large majority of people, because of, e.g., land speculations and appropriations by the powerful centers. 

During our observations over 15 years in the north, west and south of Turkey, we witnessed the followings: Tour operators control most tourist flows to ecotourism areas. That’s why, the tourism revenues of the local businesses depend principally on establishing business relations with tour operators (travel agents). Those who do not or cannot establish such a relation cannot survive. Tour operators/agencies offer visits to local communities as part of their programs. They obtain the cooperation of one or two local economical, cultural or political organizations by, e.g., paying user fees, bringing tourists for meals and shopping, renting indigenous-built huts or bungalows for overnight stays, and preferential hiring. They get a preset fee, commission or gift for such cooperation as kickback in return. They make verbal agreements with one or two establishments in local areas and bring the tourists only to these places in order to make some extra money for themselves. Thus, they establish a symbiotic relation with one or two establishments and shun and exclude other places, services and individual sellers. Furthermore, local people who have handmade materials to sell are kept away from tourists and denied access to accommodations. The excursions are mostly limited to only predetermined places. The worst is that some tour operators utilize tricky means and ways so that visitors do not spend even a penny in local areas. There are numerous studies in other countries with similar findings (Duffy 2002, Hu and Wall 2014, Slocum and Backman 2011).   

There are successful ecotourism ventures in Turkey, too, but the actual local benefits of these ventures are extremely marginal in many cases all over the world (Hsu and Lin 2013). As various studies stated (He et al. 2008, Lapeyre 2010, Fennell 2008, Meza 2009) such marginal revenues are mostly shared by a few local people that run shops, restaurants, develop activities, or have access to profitable locations. Namely, only those who have the financial resources or private partners get the largest portion of small benefits that remain at the local communities. Only very small portion of the local labor force, as it happens all over the world, get the extremely low paid seasonal jobs. Some researchers (Mbaiwa and Stronza 2010, Zanotti and Chernela 2010) think that these small incomes are better than the existing means of living which is generally characterized by poverty and exclusion. Through similar explanations, exploiting the exploited and poverty, and employing power over the powerless are justified.

In Turkey and elsewhere all over the world, local people (excluding few exceptional affluent ones) (a) have hardly ever access to resources to produce their own wealth, (b) are never part of the inclusion or participation in planning and decision making processes in ecotourism (or any other kind of economic and political processes beyond participation in their own exploitation through predetermined activities such as voting and working as laborer), (c) have no capital for business capacity, (d) lack education, skills and experience in getting higher paid jobs, (e) thus, statements about the development of indigenous community through externally induced economic activity such as ecotourism and about the accountability of local people for anything related with ecotourism are cunningly forged assertions, false justifications, and mind and behavior management ploys. 

The prevailing nature of the ownership and business practices, and creation and distribution of wealth in (eco)tourism in the countries like Turkey reflect considerable imbalance and inequality, perpetuate the lack of access to land and natural resources, deepen the economic inequality and disempowerment of local people, and alienate local community from planning process (e.g., Horton 2009). Ecotourism related facilities are mostly concentrated in the hands of few wealthy local families and outsiders. The local livelihood is connected to poverty through the mode and means of production of ecotourism that also encompass the lack of access to employment and income diversification (e.g., Lepper and Schroenn, 2010).

What makes the local situation worse is that ruling forces in the countries like Turkey surrender control of organization and operation of many resources, including local resources for ecotourism, to private powers and foreign interests in the name of liberalization, privatization, decentralization, deregulation and democratization (Duffy 2000, He et al. 2008, Mowforth and Munt 2003). 

Large portion of (eco)tourism studies also establish invalid causal tie between the level of local participation with attitudes, perception, motivation, education, access or commitment (Stone 2015). They base their wrong conclusions on the existence of significant statistical relations that never mean the existence of causality beyond simple correlation unless researcher designs a causal study which is based on a sound theoretical rationale. Namely, statistics alone do not spell causality, but only correlation. They establish wrong causality, because attitudes, perception, motivation, education, access, commitment and participation exist together: If an individual does not have capital, political ties and power to decide and act, his/her perception, motivation, education, access to information, communication ability and attitude do not matter at all, because he/she can participate in ecotourism as only laborer whose conditions of work is decided by others. 

Conservation and biodiversity via ecotourism 

One of the most stated principle of ecotourism is the sustainable use of exhaustible natural resources with no or minimal negative environmental effect: It represents eco-friendly use of natural resources (Nyuapane and Poudel 2011, Surendran and Sekhar 2011). Furthermore, it is widely claimed that ecotourism helps saving animals and fragile ecosystems by not only responsible uses but also providing financial funds for conservation or renovation (Salvador et al. 2011, Zambrano et al. 2010). Ecotourism also builds environmental awareness, sensitivity and respect. Such claims are supported by studies all over the world that makes the exceptions as rule by concluding that ecotourism is significantly effective in promoting sustainable use, conservation of flora, fauna and biodiversity. 

Ecotourists as customers and users 

Ecotourists are, first of all, customers of tourism enterprises and allied services. At the same time, they are the users and/or consumers of natural and human environment.

Environmental education, attitude, concern and behavior of ecotourists (and local people) are presented as the sole solution to the ecotourism problems. Contrarily, (eco)tourists (and local community members) are the last link of chain of negative effects on flora and fauna, habitat, livelihood and culture. The root of the problem and solution has nothing or very little to do with, e.g., knowledge, education (e.g. Fletcher 2015), effective or better policy formulation, efficiency, sufficiency, capacity building, certification for sustainable tourism, ecotourism accreditation programs, involvement of the professionals, external auditing and the like. The environmental conditions and ecotourism problems and solutions all over the world are related with those highly educated-people who organize, prepare and implement effective programs and policies and run the businesses and services. They are perfectly aware of what and why they do and probable consequences of their professional practices. So, it is necessary to revise/change the prevailing modes of organizational structures, production and distribution of goods and services, and relations of daily practices, if we are after real solutions to environmental problems.

The nature of ecotourists are rarely questioned in terms of whether they really different then mass tourist, rather they are readily/theoretically accepted as eco-friendly, responsible and sensitive people in general. Yet, they are considered as individuals to be educated for environmental sensitivity, conservation and responsibility. That is why many behavioral principles of conduct are “to do and not to do prescriptions” all over the world. 

There are many different kinds of ecotourists with different kinds of goals and activities. Besides the affirmative characteristics of ecotourists highlighted by the proponents of ecotourism, the activities of ecotourists are also associated with crime, prostitution, alchololism, sexually transmitted diseases, cultural erosion, disturbance of wildlife behavior and habitat, vegetation damage, soil-erosion, trail-erosion, litter and pollution (Steven et al. 2011, Kreiner et al. 2013, Dixit and Narula, 2010). There is a huge gap in Turkey, too, between words and deeds, not only in industrial but also ecotourist aspect of the process (Erdoğan and Erdoğan 2012).

(Eco)tourists have a common goal: Their basic motive is to have good time, not to conserve or contribute to the environment or sustainable ecotourism, unless their primary purpose is environmentally related one, not having a nice holiday. So, basic question regarding the tourists is whether they have the kind of relational culture that makes them pay close attention to the environment and sustainability. Environmentally oriented culture requires widespread socialization and acculturation that uphold environmentally sensitive mental, intellectual and relational existence in daily life in, e.g., family, school, work, mass media and internet settings. 

State as regulator and promoter of ecotourism

Policy promotion of ecotourism and connecting it with sustainable tourism by many interested parties is abundant all over the world. The state and state institutions are the foremost ones in this respect. 

Policy developments in Turkey in general reflect manifestations of efforts to integrate international environmental policy initiatives across the political, cultural and economic spectrum. Turkey has gradually put in place a regulatory framework for protecting sensitive areas and buttressing sustainable tourism development in order to integrate national environmental considerations in tourism policies and also harmonize its tourism legislation with the EU. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has emphasized the environmental sustainability especially since the beginning of the 2000. In 2004, the "Tourism Vision of Turkey 2010" and in 2007, the "Tourism Strategies of Turkey 2023" were developed by the Ministry. The Tourism Vision provided explanations and policies about environmental sustainability. The Tourism Strategy 2023 also acknowledged the deficient infrastructure and environmental problems and provided prescriptive solutions that are found in neo-liberal books. It stated that provisions shall be made for establishment of participative mechanisms such as Local Agenda 21, with the local councils becoming functional in a given neighborhood. Also, it indicated that an effective policy ".... should reroute all tourism investments toward reducing the imbalances of welfare and development imbalances throughout the country and treat them with an approach that safeguards, conserves and improves the natural, historical, cultural and social environment and should "conserve and use natural resources in the most economically and ecologically sustainable way". According to National Parks Act number 2873, all developments must be compatible with the environment, including, as appropriate, sewage management; native plants disturbed from the site and surrounding area must be relocated as an integral part of plans for landscaping and landscape restoration. 

Policy issues of ecotourism in terms of the involvement of state organizations mostly boils down to the regulation, monitoring, control and promotion. As Banerjee (2010) and others found in their studies elsewhere, the bureaucratic and relational nature and practice of ecotourism policies rarely benefit local communities and environmental conservation/protection in Turkey too. The problem has little to do with the lack of funding, character of population and developmental pressures.

Unfortunately, the daily practices found in the tourism sector generally lag behind the legal requirements and policy objectives. Furthermore, a prevailing problem in Turkey, like among developing/emerging countries (Agrawal and Redford 2006), is that there is a serious lack of enforcement of laws and regulations because of the prevailing relational culture in economics, politics and administration. Laws, rules and regulations about ecotourism and environmental protection are passed by, overlooked and violated by all the involved parties, including members of state agencies since parts of the state apparatus have been co-opted by networks of private interests and powerful elites. Thus, Turkey and similar countries are in need of finding ways to enforce the laws properly and tourism enterprises need to develop honest social responsibility and environmental sensitivity (Tosun et al. 2003, Erdoğan 2009). 

State institutions in Turkey provide incentives, awards, national and global certification programs, eco-labeling and accreditation schemes that are viewed as promising self regulatory and encouragement mechanisms for improving the industry's environmental performance (Erdoğan and Baris 2007). As yet, there are no government-set conditions and industry practices geared toward investing in specific geographical areas, with specific criteria for the use of local goods or services, employing local people and encouraging local financing. 

Environmental policy of tourism and allied sectors: Words and deeds

Travel agents, tour operators, lodging and accommodation industries, food and beverage industries, and air, land and water transportation industries comprise of basic tourism and allied sectors. Nature of environmental condition are outcome of their combined policies and practices. 

According to some scholars (e.g.,Honey 2008, Laudati 2010), ecotourism policies are designed to influence tourist preferences for the purpose of revenue generation which is the principle consideration. Other policy and practice issues that are contrary to the stated characters of ecotourism include the exploitative resource use for higher financial gains, the lack of respect to the carrying capacity of the destination, using jeeps and vehicles with high CO2 emissions, wildlife and habitat disturbance and environmental degrading, negative impact on wildlife behavior, human migration to the area, decrease in growth of flora and fauna, unsustainable resource use, the local dispossession of private land, loss of control over the land use by local people (Banerjee 2010). The findings of Ghosh and Datta (2012) are valid for Turkey, too: The ecotourism policies and practices isolate local community members from decision making and ecotourism processes and practices. 

In respect to existence of environmental policy, travel agents and hotels in general have poor records (Erdoğan and Tosun 2009). For instance, Erdoğan’s study (2012) found that 88.3 % of travel agents have no environmental programs, 89.9 % have no budget allocated for environmental protection, 91.6 % have no membership to any environmental NGOs and 96.4 % have received no award for any environmental management. 

We should never forget the fact that having an environmental policy or policy for educating tourists and local people about conservation (e.g., Magnus et al. 2015, Yen-Ting et al. 2014) do not automatically translate into environmentally friendly practices. Having environmental policy and environmental knowledge, education, awareness, attitudes and opinions are not primary determining factors that lead those who decide, manage and implement ecotourism policies and activities, because the primary determining factors are not free preferences or opinions of individuals, but vested interests of the organizational structures. 

Studies that are related with the environmental and policy issues of tourism and allied sectors put forward numerous policy shortcomings and suggestions as remedy. All suggestions looks very impressive and significant, however most of them remain invalid because of the exclusion of structural and relational realities of daily professional practices: There are no industrial policy drawbacks regarding, for instance, non-involvement of the local community, local impoverishment, and local and national leakage, because that is the way that industrial system operates. 

Academic interest in and studies on ecotourism

Another group of stakeholder is the academicians that engage in teaching, training and research in ecotourism. Their explanations about ecotourism vary according to their theoretical framework, personal biases and personal interests. We can group academicians under three broad categories. The first ones are called mainstream scholars. They constitute the great majority in Turkey and elsewhere. They consider ecotourism as means of economic development, conservation and enhancement of environment and biodiversity. They generally provide theoretical, promotional, normative and mystified explanations about the nature and benefits of ecotourism. 

The second ones are those who come up with alternative explanations. This group of scholars is very rarely found in Turkish academia. They consider ecotourism as economic expansion of tourism and allied industries beyond the seashores in order to exploit natural and local areas for financial gains via forging and promoting new forms of tourisms that include ecotourism. 

The third approaches fall in between the two and provide various levels of support or criticism by, for instance, dividing ecotourism organizations and activities as “true ecotourism or not” (e.g, Datta and Bebarji 2015). 

According to the mainstream scholars in Turkey and other countries, the business enterprises involved in ecotourism support environmental conservation by generating revenues that can be used for sustainable management of local areas, national parks, protected areas and historical places, contribute to national and local economic development by providing employment and income (Jalani 2012, Shah 2007, Surendran and Sekhar 2011). Betterment of local livelihoods through ecotourism has been widely promoted as an important policy instrument for biodiversity conservation (Lai and Nepal 2006, Scheyvens 2007). It has been praised for contribution to the goals of poverty eradication and conservation of natural resources (e.g., Surendran and Sekhar 2011) and put forward as alternative to the exploitative use of environmental resources (e.g., Nyuapane and Poudel 2011). It is asserted that “ecotourism creates significant opportunities for the conservation, protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and of natural areas by encouraging local and indigenous communities in host countries and tourists alike to preserve and respect the natural and cultural heritage” (World Tourism Organization 2013). It is claimed that it empowers local community, fosters respect for different cultures, promotes indirect incentives like improved infrastructures, health facilities, awareness and education from tourism development (Nyuapane and Poudel 2011). 

Mainstream explanations and studies are abundant in Turkey. They are mostly based on quantitative quasi-experimental (survey) designs and great majority of them are methodologically invalid (Erdoğan 2001). They are typically concerned with providing descriptive explanations about the roles of ecotourism and effective ecotourism management. As if they were investors or employees of tourism industries, they are interested in determining the ecotourism potentials of local communities, mountainous villages, pristine natural environments, beautiful pastoral areas, creeks, rivers, lakes and historical places. 

In Turkey, meaningful critical or humane assessment of policies, ecotourism establishments, services and related industries are almost nonexistent. It is very rare to see any significant debate among academics, planners and decision makers about ecotourism beyond some lip service. Instead, they portray ecotourism, facilities, services and practices as playing the role of preserving local heritage and culture, serving local community, interpreting social, cultural and historical values, providing information, knowledge and education, and building sensitivity, awareness, admiration, appreciation, and respect to local life and culture. 

Some researchers acknowledge the undesirable outcomes of ecotourism and focus on the idea that financial gains have not equally spread to all areas of local community development and activities have lacked the efficient long-term planning which is necessary for sustainable ecotourism. Hence, they suggest responsible practices and some necessary corrective measures to overcome unwanted outcomes of ecotourism activities (e.g., Datta and Banerji 2015). 

Yet some other researchers come up with alternative theoretical and methodological approaches and question the practices and assumptions about the nature and benefits of ecotourism (e.g., Erdoğan and Erdoğan 2012, Duffy 2002, Tribe 2003, Cater 2006, Burns and Novelli 2008, Bianchi 2009, Fletcher 2011). They provide explanations that include (a) economic replacement and destruction of historical economic development of local areas by (eco)tourism industries, (b) creation of unemployment, seasonal employment, under-paid work force, and thus local poverty instead of local wealth, (c) increasing destruction of traditional way of economic production, thus, contributing to the economical impoverishment of great majority, (d) empowering a few wealthy local individuals who reap economic benefits as owners and partners of (eco)tourism facilities and services, (e) compulsory displacement by increasing replacement by tourism activities, (f) migration to large cities because of marginalization and then elimination of means of producing material life, (e) highly disproportional Local, national and international distribution of profits, (f) failure of ecotourism to reduce various local dependencies in a positive way. This group of scholars focuses on the problems in ecotourism that include (1) revenue leakages, (2) labor policy of employing skilled labor from urban sector and unskilled labor from locals, (3) inequitable distribution of income, (4) compulsory displacement, (5) large scale loss of land, (6) unemployment, homelessness, prostitution, violence, destruction of local culture, (7) gradual or fast loss of historical livelihood, (8) increase in hopelessness, morbidity, alienation, (9) damages to flora and fauna. According to them, the promotion of local livelihoods, ecological sustainment and biodiversity through ecotourism have been cunningly forged, prepared and worldwide disseminated factoids that promote the interests of tourism and allied industries, and sustainability; in fact, ecotourism refers to the expansion of sustainability of the industrial structures. 

Unfortunately, we see very rarely any explanation and research design in Turkey that provide a critical/alternative mode of inquiry on ecotourism that include the issues mentioned above and focus on the national and international political, economic and cultural power relations and vested interests. It is hard to find any ecotourism study in Turkey that comes up with hypothesis or conclusion indicating that ecotourism has compromised the cause of biodiversity conservation, historical culture, development and way of life in local communities. Very few researchers in Turkey approach ecotourism as an expansion of tourism industries to rural areas, and as a form of capital that is disguised as sustainable nature-based tourism that promotes conservation of biodiversity, ecological, cultural, historical, local and scenic values.

Mainstream solutions to environmental problems are completely different than solutions provided by alternative approaches. Basically former ones deal with mechanical solutions to symptoms and end products (outcomes) of the ecotourism processes and practices. The latter ones focus on the substantial changes or revisions in the industrial structures and practices that cause social, economic, cultural and environmental problems.


Regardless of country and issue that we are interested in studying or explaining, we should recognize the very fact that ecotourism ventures do not automatically imply conservation or development. Indeed, conservation requires delinking not only local people but also tourism industry and allied investors from the consumptive use of flora and fauna in forests, jungles and savannahs, and reducing rates of habitat conversion and poaching. We should also be aware of the extremely important differences between (1) possibilities, probabilities, potentials, “what should be”, “what can or could” and (2) facts, “what is” and “how is.” Unfortunately, facts and fiction, and facts and potentials are generally confused in the explanations and studies of ecotourism. We should not replace or confuse facts (“what is”) with fiction or probabilities. Furthermore, we should refrain from providing explanations and conclusions that are nothing more than a fallacy of composition that is based on presenting quantitatively and qualitatively marginal cases of ecotourism practices as proof of main characteristics of ecotourism. For instance, ecotourism can provide economic incentives for local and even national development and for preserving natural areas, only (a) if the revenues and distribution of revenues are large enough and accessible to the local populations in order to bring about such outcomes (Fennell 2008), (b) if there is proper infra-structure, proper ecosystem services and a well-designed system of visitation charges and service fees that are used for the environment and local development (Alpizar 2006, Hearne and Santos 2005). Moreover, ecotourism should not be considered as the only source of development of local communities, unless it provides long term, real and sustainable development for the entire community beyond few local investors. It can be complementary and supplementary factor to the historically developing way of life in a community (Lewis et al. 2011, Mbaiwa and Stronza 2010). 

The relationship of ecotourism to sustainable development, especially for the sustainability of business ventures sounds feasible, but lacks validity in terms of sustainability of local communities. There are lots of suggestions, recommendations and talks about the functions of ecotourism to improve the environment and economic welfare of local people by forming a symbiotic relationship between powerful parties involved in ecotourism and local people (e.g., Stronza and Gordillo 2008). Unfortunately, such symbiotic relationship with highly exaggerated benefits to local communities is unrealistic mystification in practice in Turkey and elsewhere (e,g., Agrawal and Redford 2006, Coria and Calfucura 2012, Das and Chatterjee 2015, Carter et. al. 2015). Statements about the social, cultural and psychological aspects of ecotourism are full of wishful, imagined and forged statements about goals, effects and outcomes of ecotourism. Ecotourism is good only for certain groups of local, national and international entrepreneurs. 

Ecotourism’s potential to improve local livelihood possibilities is erased because of the highly uneven distribution of power, power relations and, thus, economic benefits. In sum, there is no empirical evidence in Turkey invalidating the criticism that ecotourism spells success only in terms of generating income for tourism establishments and related industries. However, it spells failure in terms of meeting the promises made to local communities, due to very nature of the organization and practice of the ecotourism and related structures.


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