This year’s Geotourism Summit began today, the first of February, in Washington DC with a Geotourism ambassador training. Tomorrow, the summit continues with a general session of conversation about Policies & Practices at Work and with a presentation of the ten Geotourism Finalists of year 2009. The keynote presentation is held by James H. Gilmore, a co-author of The Experience Economy and Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want.
But what is Geotourism? The extremely rapid growth of the conventional mass tourism has many times led to a wide range of problems such as environmental, social and cultural degradation and unequal distribution of financial benefits. Consequently during the last decades there has been a growing tendency of looking for alternative ways of tourism development in order to slow or arrest the deterioration process of tourism development.
In the 1980s the development of the environmental movement offered an alternative to ‘bad’ mass tourism in the form of ecotourism and by the end of the 1990’s ecotourism was the fastest growing sector of global tourism. Geotourism belongs to the group of new and in some sense more socially just approaches of tourism that have occurred since the beginning of ‘ecotourism boom’. Even though ecotourism has been able to define itself somehow in relation to sustainability and development, the wide use of the term in tourism marketing has altered it almost to an empty buzzword…
In 1997, Jonathan B. Tourtellot, while a Senior Editor at National Geographic, developed the idea of geotourism and the associated idea of sustainable tourism that focuses on an area’s human culture and history. The Geotourism -concept was introduced publicly in a 2002 report by the Travel Industry Association of America (today U.S. Travel Association) and National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Geotourism adds to sustainability principles by building on a destination’s geographical character, its “sense of place”. It is predicated on the idea that the traveler support local businesses that themselves emphasize the special character of their surroundings –promoting and using local products and services. And, all the while doing this with an awareness of how everything in their area fits together in a symbiotic relationship benefitting the uniqueness of the area as a whole — its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of the residents.
National Geographic describes:
All the elements of geographical character work together to create a tourist experience that is richer than the sum of its parts, appealing to visitors with diverse interests. Enthusiastic visitors bring home new knowledge. Their stories encourage friends and relatives to experience the same thing, which brings continuing business for the destination.
Read more about the ten Geotourism finalists 2010 here.
Text: Emily H?ckert
Image: National Geographic