By Rutherford Johnson
The Land of 10,000 Lakes, famous around the world for its seemingly endless forests, wild rivers, and plentiful lakes, sets an example to the world for ecotourism. It is something that should be a source of pride for the people of the state. It is something that should continue to evolve and progress.
As the world's economy ebbs and flows over time, even once prosperous locations sometimes find themselves struggling for relevance and for income. It is no surprise that tourism overall has been the economic salvation of many places around the world, bringing in much-needed currency from more currently prosperous nations. (Old Tuscan towns that were once thriving but
now survive only thanks to ecotourism come to mind.) Not every location, though, has historical artifacts, ancient ruins, or grand buildings that would draw visitors. Then again, not everyone wants to see only such things.
Enter ecotourism - tourism based on nature. It need not be a wilderness adventure, and some ecotourism providers take their clients even to remote areas in comfort.
Some areas around the world blessed with wide, open spaces, natural wonders, beautiful beaches, and so forth have been able to leverage that into an ecotourism industry. It is an infusion of money that would not otherwise likely find its way to those countries. But, in the international ecotourism market, it is not all a single-sided benefit. Indeed, it comprises a key part of global trade.
Tour companies based in places such as the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia (among others) partner with companies in places such as the Bahamas, Panama, Aruba, Argentina, Costa Rica, and more. A flow of visitors from around the globe comes to see and often experience something that might be vastly different from their home areas. Local communities benefit from ecotourism, which provides jobs and (hopefully) higher income, but economic activity is also generated in the nations that supply the visitors. For example, there are jobs created through tour companies in the developed country and in the developing/destination country, and that can generate a good deal of economic activity in both locations effects.
It is not all about the money, though. Travel is well known to have significant benefits, and it is not a modern phenomenon. The famed "Grand Tour" from the 16th century to the end of the 18th century was considered an essential part of education - at least for those who could afford it. Travel brings the world closer together, helps us understand each other better, and ultimately can lead to transformative experiences that change our own lives. Also, specific especially to ecotourism, such experiences can help us better understand the environment and feel connected to nature. Both with humanity and with nature, if we individually feel a connection, we are more likely to seek symbiotic relationships rather than exploitation.
Furthermore, Minnesota certainly appears to be serious about sustainability - another key element in ecotourism. A sustainable approach to outdoor recreation and tourism is as important in destination countries as it is in Minnesota. It helps to ensure that the location will be a viable destination into the future and helping the local economy there become stable rather than a flash in the pan that disappears once a foreign company has milked it for all it's worth and destroyed it in the process.
Indeed, a developing economy that has something to offer in terms of ecotourism or agritourism, or a similar location that has fallen on hard times in a developed country could do far worse than to look to Minnesota as a guide to strengthening their economy.
Rutherford Cardinal Johnson, Ph.D., is a cleric, author and educator teaching economics and international business at the University of Minnesota Crookston.