Sustainable Ecotourism and Visitor Capacity
Destination stewardship, also known as "Ecotourism" or "Geotourism" is tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place: its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents. Place-based tourism showcases an area’s flora, fauna, history, geology, traditional architecture, local music, cuisine (including local agriculture), dances, and arts.
In highlighting these segments of the tourism community, the surrounding community benefits both culturally and financially, which in turn cultivates a motive to protect those values that have been interpreted for the visiting public. This idea of basing tourism on community assets instead of pop culture is the basis of a sustainable tourism program.
The issue of how much use can ultimately be accommodated in parks and protected areas is conventionally called carrying capacity in the professional literature, and the NPS resolved in the early 1990’s to address this issue. The effort was led by a group of NPS planners and was supported by several government and university scientists. Based on the scientific and professional literature, a framework was devised to analyze and manage carrying capacity in the national parks and related areas. The framework was called Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (now commonly referred to by its acronym VERP) as an expression of its intentions. The framework was designed to identify and protect what is important about park units and not to inherently limit visitor use, although such limits are needed in some places and at some times to ensure resource protection. VERP defines indicators and standards for Preserve resources and the quality of visitor experience, establishes procedures for monitoring those conditions, and requires management actions to ensure that the standards are maintained. An indicator is a measurable variable that can be used to monitor and track changes in resource conditions and visitor experiences to determine if desired conditions are being met. A standard is the minimum acceptable condition for an indicator. If a standard is not met, management strategies may be adjusted to minimize impacts.
Using standards as part of the VERP framework, Preserve staff can ensure that any impact to Preserve resources or visitor experience is not adverse. Preserve staff have developed a list of appropriate indicators that will be used in the implementation of the Commercial Services Plan for Big Cypress. The list of indicators can be found in Table 5, found on page 92. Each permitted operator will work with BICY staff to select 3 indicators to monitor during the term of their CUA. If and when monitoring of selected indicators show Preserve uses reach a level at which they must be limited or curtailed, the preferred choice will be to continue uses that best meet the criteria listed in section 8.2 of the current NPS Management Policies for preferred uses, and to limit or curtail those that least meet those criteria. When monitoring of an individual operator or activity in the Preserve results in reaching the threshold for action, the Potential Management Action for any indicators will result in a four phase approach:
Evaluation – by staff and commercial operator to identify specific actions that have resulted in reaching the threshold value
Education – of commercial operator by Preserve staff and the public (commercial visitor) by commercial operator
Enforcement – by rangers to ensure limits are strictly applied
Exclusion – of commercial operators from areas affected. These exclusions may be spatial or temporal, and may include lowering the number of permits issued for a given activity or management unit, allowing activities only during certain times of day, week, or season.
If monitoring continues to indicate unacceptable levels, this four phase approach will be re-applied, with increasing exclusion, possibly resulting in the cessation of commercial activities in the affected area.