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Martha Honey:"I see Ecotourism, whose origins trace back to the environmental movement in the 1970s, as today a far wider and deeper concept -encompassing more countries and having more dimensions than in the past "

The ECOCLUB Interview with Martha Honey
Co-Director, Center on Ecotourism & Sustainable Development (CESD)
Index of Interviews

Martha HoneyMartha Honey, co-founder and Co-Director of the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (CESD), heads the Washington, DC office. She has written and lectured widely on ecotourism, travelers' philanthropy, and certification issues. Her books include Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise? (Island Press, 1999 and 2008) and Ecotourism and Certification: Setting Standards in Practice (Island Press, 2002). She worked for 20 years as a journalist based in Tanzania, East Africa and Costa Rica, Central America. She holds a Ph.D. in African history from the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania. Martha Honey was Executive Director of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) from 2003 to 2006.

CESDThe Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (CESD) , founded in 2003, is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research institute devoted to eco- and sustainable tourism. The only one of its kind in the United States, the institute operates out of bi-coastal offices in Washington DC and at Stanford University, and partners with agencies and institutes around the world to monitor, evaluate and improve sustainable tourism practices and principles. Its policy oriented research leverages tourism as a tool for poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. CESD’s areas of focus include “green” certification; travelers’ philanthropy; indigenous rights; transportation, climate change and carbon offsets; impacts of cruise tourism and resort and residential tourism; and research on market trends in the tourism industry and related areas.  

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB.com: As the former head of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), how satisfied are you about the progress of Ecotourism as a global phenomenon between Quebec 2002 and Oslo 2007, and what is your vision for the future? Do you see Ecotourism also playing a meaningful part in the political ecology/ green movement (with which it seems to shares a taste for the environment, human rights, pacifism and multilateralism), or do you see it merely remaining a trendy holiday/lifestyle option for the mainstream?

Martha Honey: In general, I remain positive about the progress and direction of ecotourism. I see ecotourism, whose origins trace back to the environmental movement in the 1970s, as today a far wider and deeper concept -encompassing more countries and having more dimensions than in the past. For me, the UN's 2002 International Year of Ecotourism (IYE) signalled that ecotourism had grown from a good idea into a global movement. The UN recognized that in countries around the world, ecotourism was being put forward as a cleaner, greener alternative to both extractive industries (logging, mining, commercial agriculture) and to mass or conventional tourism.
There were, however, strong concerns voiced during IYE about the benefits of ecotourism to local communities and particularly indigenous peoples. We can think of ecotourism as having three primary principles:  it should 1) benefit conservation, 2) respect basic rights and benefit host communities, and 3) be educational as well as enjoyable for the traveller.  On the first, ecotourism has brought increased resources to protected areas and an emergence of ‘green’ architecture that is lighter on the land. One the third, we have seen, for instance, the emergence of the importance of good naturalist and cultural guides in interpretation and enhancement of the visitor experience. However, the second principle – ecotourism and host communities - that is both the most difficult part of the ecotourism equation and where, I feel, we have done least well.
In the years between the 2002 IYE and the 2007 Oslo global ecotourism summit we saw ecotourism grow in a number of ways. Just to name a few: certification, travelers’ philanthropy, and new variants of ecotourism. During these five years, certification moved squarely onto the agenda, with the proliferation of 80-odd certification programs that measure the environmental, social and economic impacts of tourism businesses.  Led by the Rainforest Alliance and backed by several UN agencies, we are now close to the launch of the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council (STSC), a global accreditation body that will “certify” these certification programs against common standards. This is a big step forward.
Travelers’ philanthropy – or the flow of development assistance from tourism businesses and travellers to host communities and conservation – has also increased. And we’ve seen the emergence of a number of variants of ecotourism, all with slightly different emphases. There is, for instance, geotourism that emphasizes the entire destination rather than individual businesses, pro-poor tourism to bring benefits to local communities, and agri-tourism that seeks to protect and strengthen family-owned farms and rural lifestyles. One of the most exciting variants is sustainable tourism which is applying the principles and good practices of ecotourism to larger, more mainstream tourism businesses such as beach resorts, city and chain hotels, airlines, and cruise ships. 
Ultimately, of course, the goal is that entire tourism industry follow the sound principles of environmental and social sustainability that have been honed and ground tested through ecotourism. Clearly we have a long, long ways to go and there are many challenges to achieving this goal. One of the ongoing tensions within the field of ecotourism over whether, as you say in your question, it is a political ecology movement or simply a lifestyle trend. Clearly, I believe it is the former. I see ecotourism as inherently a ‘revolutionary’ concept that, properly done, holds out the possibility of transforming the way the travel industry operates and the way we travel. Ecotourism is, I believe, a part of efforts to build healthier, happier, more equitable, just and peaceful societies.

ECOCLUB.com: In recent years you are developing and steering the concept of "Travelers’ Philanthropy". For many, philanthropy is elitist and reminiscent of late 19th century and early 20th century, rather ruthless industrialists. What is 21st century philanthropy with reference to travel, and in what way is it different, progressive and for the majority of travellers?
Martha Honey: I believe that the concept of travelers’ philanthropy is integral to ecotourism – even though I agree with you that the name may be misleading. “Philanthropy” can conjure up images of 19th century mega-millionaires such as Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie seeking atonement for ruthless or destructive activities by creating philanthropic foundations. The 21st century practice of travelers’ philanthropy is a form of ‘give back’ or development assistance from tourism businesses and individual travellers into host community and conservation projects.  The first practitioners of travelers’ philanthropy were ecotourism businesses who saw real needs in the host communities  and responded by providing material and financial support and expertise. Initially the owners and staff of many businesses helped to support local schools, health clinics, micro-enterprises, conservation projects, etc. Gradually, a number have begun to involve their guests in these projects, offering them opportunities to donate “time, talent or treasure” to community projects.
My organization, CESD, has had a Travelers’ Philanthropy program since 2004 which is helping to bring together under one umbrella these tourism businesses that are involved in providing assistance to projects in the host communities. We have a website (www.travelersphilanthropy.org)  that, among other things, offers a way to make tax deductible donations to local projects that are featured on the site. We are also organizing the next major conference on travelers’ philanthropy. This international conference will be held December 3-5, 2008 in Arusha, Tanzania, with a special focus on Africa.  We are pleased that ECOCLUB has become the first media sponsor of this conference. Our special website – www.travelersphilanthropyconference.org – has all the details.
Who owns paradise

Ecotourism & Sustainable Development, 2nd Edition, August 2008 Dr. Honey revisits six nations she profiled in the first edition—the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, and South Africa—and adds a new chapter on the United States. She examines the growth of ecotourism within each country’s tourism strategy, its political system, and its changing economic policies. More Details 

ECOCLUB.com: You are an accomplished journalist, academic and author. In your best-selling, seminal book, "Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?" you argue that "Ecotourism should support human rights and democracy". This is of course beyond the "leave only footprints" dictum included in many guidelines. What happens however, if the local culture / people / system / government do not share the western perception of parliamentary democracy and sort the long catalogue of human rights by a different rank?  How do we avoid looking like the scout who helped the old lady across the street, or worse like the priests who facilitated the demise of Amerindians?
Martha Honey: Good question. Yes, as indicated above, I think ecotourism means far more than  “leave only footprints.” It is also not about advocating western perceptions of parliamentary democracy. Rather, it is about supporting the universal human rights, labour rights, indigenous rights, and democratic principles that the world community, via the United Nations, has articulated. They have also been well articulated in the UNWTO’s Code of Ethics for Tourism. These should be the guide for what are best practices for the tourism industry and for what principles should be promoted in the host countries.

ECOCLUB.com: You are also quite familiar with Africa. Watching conflict and disease increasing rather than decreasing, and the cold war over, it seems the west has decided to give up on Africa,  (with new powers arriving to fill the vacuum). Until recently countries such as Kenya were seen as quite successful countries, with a strong Tourism sector. One can imagine that without Tourism, Africa would have been a lot worse. However, is it and was it ever realistic that Africa could survive on Tourism alone? Did Tourism bring about much needed social and political reforms, or did it delay them, by supporting corrupt and authoritarian structures?
Martha Honey: Tourism is important in Africa.  It is the principle foreign exchange earner for 83% of developing countries and, along with oil, the top foreign exchange earner in the 40 poorest countries, most of which are in Africa.  But too often tourism has mainly benefited local and foreign elite. In East Africa, for instance, there have been land grabs by powerful elites of tourism rich lands around the game parks and along the coasts.  To be a tool for sustainable development, tourism needs to adhere to the social and environmental principles and good practices of ecotourism. We see some fine examples of ecotourism operations in Africa, but there needs to be much more effort, by governments, the private sector, NGOs and development agencies to plan and implement nationwide strategies for socially and environmentally responsible tourism. In addition, it is risky for countries to rely too much on tourism or any other single industry. To be healthy, vibrant and sustainable, countries need a diverse mix of economic activities.

ECOCLUB.com: It is not unheard of in Africa, for whole peoples to be evicted from ancestral areas, baptized as 'national parks', so that these can be visited by nature tourists, hunting tourists, and more importantly mining and diamond extracting companies. Should the ecotourism community become more vocal about such human rights violations? And how?
Martha Honey: Yes, definitely, the ecotourism community can play a more active role in working with  local communities who were evicted from their lands to create national parks. We see some important initiatives to do in East and Southern Africa. In South Africa, the restitution movement, launched after the end of apartheid, has permitted communities to petition the government  to get back their lands. The government has returned some lands with the condition that they be used for only ecotourism. There are a number of partnerships between ecotourism companies and local communities to run lodges inside or on the edge of the parks. More, of course, can be done but we do have some promising models in southern Africa. In Kenya and Tanzania, there are examples of safari companies, camps, and ranches that are working with local communities to involve them in locally owned or managed tourism projects. Some companies have worked hard to establish formal agreements with Maasai and other local communities to provide jobs and pay fees for use of their lands. And there have been some efforts by local governments to funnel a portion of the park entrance fees to social welfare and conservation projects in the surrounding communities and to train and hire more local people as park rangers and guides. A lot remains to be done, and many peoples who were evicted from their lands to create parks continue to feel they have not received fair compensation.

ECOCLUB.com: Costa Rica, and Central America at large, is considered as one of the birthplaces of Ecotourism. You have lived and worked extensively in the region and indeed authored a book "Hostile Acts: U.S. Policy in Costa Rica in the 1980's". Was the emergence and success of Ecotourism in Costa Rica an accident, or a result of its progressive, pacifist policies? And what now for Costa Rica?
Martha Honey: The rise of ecotourism in Costa Rica and elsewhere in the region began when the wars in Central America ended in the late 1980s. The most important moment was when President Oscar Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. Peace is a prerequisite for successful international ecotourism. Costa Rica had, in addition, other ingredients -- the “right stuff” -- that made it possible for ecotourism to grow rapidly and to involve many local people.  Costa Rica has, for instance, a fine national parks system around which ecotourism developed. It had abolished its army and nationalized the banks in the late 1940s and had pumped government funds into infrastructure, education, health, small farms, and other social welfare programs.  Costa Rica has the largest middle class in the Americas, good public education through university, and a high quality national health care system. So it has a healthy, well educated, and entrepreneurial population capable of owning, managing and working in a range of ecotourism businesses and activities. This is supported by a stable, peaceful political environment, relatively well functioning and enlightened government, and close proximity to the North American market. So ecotourism wasn’t an accident. Rather all these factors combined to make Costa Rica, by the mid-1990s, the leading ecotourism destination in the Americas. Indeed, over the last 20 years, Costa Rica’s commitment to ecotourism and environmentalism as become as important to the national identity as the country’s non-militarism.
But the picture has become more complex. There is another type of tourism rapidly growing in Costa Rica. It is coastal resort and residential tourism of large typically gated complexes with hotels, golf courses, marinas, vacation homes, and other facilities that are often owned by and catering to foreigners, particularly from the U.S. My organization, CESD, is currently involved in the first large study of tourism development along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. We are examining the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of this type of resort and residential tourism and will assess how it compares with Costa Rica’s ecotourism model.
It is fair to say that there is much concern in Costa Rica about what is happening along the coasts and how to maintain the country’s reputation for high quality ecotourism. The current government, which is once again led by Oscar Arias, has launched an innovative Peace with Nature Initiative, with tourism as one of its central components. Among other aims, it seeks to make Costa Rica a carbon neutral country by 2021.  All of this is hopeful, and signals a determination to try to protect Costa Rica’s successful ecotourism model.

ECOCLUB.com: Should Ecotourism Certification stick to measuring environmental impact, or can it credibly incorporate socio-political criteria & beliefs?
Martha Honey: Of the 80-odd ‘green’ certification programs around the world today, the best ones include environmental, social and economic criteria since all three are vital for sustainable development. In Europe and the U.S, however, many of the certification programs include only environmental criteria. They do not deal with fair working conditions, benefits to surrounding communities, and other social issues. The proposed global accreditation body, the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council (STSC) will require certification programs to include certain basic criteria that measure the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental impacts.

ECOCLUB.com: Many tourism & travel conferences are little more than networking events, and a chance to engage in parallel monologues, with most speakers praising themselves and their successes. In what way will the Travelers Philanthropy Conference seek to be different, and what key discussions and decisions could be made at this gathering?
Martha Honey: Networking is only one objective of the Travelers’ Philanthropy conference taking place December 3-5, 2008 in Tanzania. The conference will bring together practitioners from socially responsible tourism businesses, experts in the field of sustainable tourism and philanthropy,  global, regional, and community-based organizations doing development work, the United Nations and other development agencies, philanthropic foundations, government, and the media.  The workshops will facilitate discussion of the tools and capacity needed to effectively run and evaluate community projects, in order to improve the impacts and outcomes of tourism industry investments in development projects. A goal is to identify a set of best practices for Travelers’ Philanthropy projects. More generally, the conference will build media and public interest in supporting worthy community and conservation projects as an important component of socially responsible travel.

The theme of the conference will be “Making Travelers’ Philanthropy Work for Development, Businesses, and Conservation.”  As such, the conference’s program will emphasize key conceptual and strategic elements of Travelers’ Philanthropy which enables these initiatives, and the operators and clients who support them, to deepen their social and environmental impact in a sustainable way.  Keynote speaker Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Laureate from Kenya, and a diverse line-up of other speakers, presenters and panelists will address key Travelers’ Philanthropy issues, especially in Africa.

These include:

  • Making effective, lasting, and strategic investments in social initiatives such as public health, HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment, and education;

  • Linking tourism businesses and Travelers’ Philanthropy to the conservation of wildlife, biodiversity, and marine resources at the local level through financial support and economic incentives;

  • Designing development projects that target the root social and institutional causes of poverty in Africa and other parts in the world, through social movements for justice, equity, and political voice;

  • Addressing climate change and carbon footprint issues facing the travel industry through innovative off-setting and other Travelers’ Philanthropy strategies;

  • Using Travelers’ Philanthropy to provide specific training and capacity building for  communities, emphasizing local participation and empowerment;

  • Developing and spreading tourism business models that fully incorporate ethical and sustainable tourism with Travelers’ Philanthropy as a central element.

In addition to these issues, which will form the basis for the conference’s sessions and panel presentations, CESD will also run a short technical seminar for businesses interested in developing Travelers’ Philanthropy programs. At this “how to” seminar, CESD and representatives from companies with well developed programs will cover questions such as how to identify which community project to assist, what sorts of corporate involvement and support are appropriate, how to develop a program to involve guests and travellers, and how to set up the legal structures and oversight mechanisms. The conference will also feature the premier of the first ever video documentary on Travelers’ philanthropy. The documentary, which is being filmed and edited by a team Stanford University graduate students in video production, will highlight projects from around the world, with specific emphasis on Tanzania, Kenya and Costa Rica. Finally, CESD together with leading East Africa tour operators is offering eight optional safaris before and after the conference. The tours showcase the best of Tanzania’s ecotourism attractions, including its world renowned game parks (Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara), Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the island of Zanzibar. They also include visits to community and conservation projects that are supported by tourism businesses - to demonstrate Travelers’ Philanthropy in action. 

ECOCLUB.com: Finally, what would be other ecotourism-related future plans for you or your organisation CESD?

Martha Honey: CESD is committed to high quality and cutting edge research and projects around critical issues facing the tourism industry. We are a bi-coastal institute, with offices in Washington, DC and at Stanford University (which is headed by CESD’s co-director, Dr. William Durham).  We began with certification and travelers’ philanthropy. Over the last several years, our focus has grown beyond ecotourism to encompass the broader tourism industry. We have carried out, for instance, a number of studies of the impacts of cruise tourism on ports-of-call and destination countries. (The studies on Costa Rica, Belize and Honduras are posted on the CESD website.) We have recently completed a study of global trends in coastal tourism (also on the website) and are now doing an in-depth assessment of resort and residential tourism along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. We are also working to create and strengthen a network in the Americas of ecotourism businesses run by indigenous peoples, and we are exploring expanding this model to other geographic regions. Our major long term project is called Travel STAR (Sustainable Tourism and Reinvestment) and it involves creating a one stop shop web portal for ecotourism holidays, carbon offset, and travelers’ philanthropy and marketing holiday packages to employees of socially responsible businesses and institutions in North America. CESD’s portfolio of projects, some of which generate income, are all   aimed , as our tagline says, at “transforming the way the world travels.”

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!


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