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A modeling analysis of the sustainability of ecotourism in Belize

David M. Blersch, Patrick C. Kangas
Environment, development and sustainability 2013 v.15 no.1 pp. 67-80
computer simulation, ecosystems, ecotourism, environmental impact, habitats, income, income distribution, infrastructure, oils, people, prices, simulation models, species diversity, tropics, Belize
Over the past two decades, ecotourism has emerged as an important conservation strategy, especially in the Tropics where a diversity of species and habitats are threatened by traditional forms of development. However, questions remain about the sustainability of ecotourism in terms of distributions of income to local people and degradation of ecosystems visited by the ecotourists. In this study, a computer simulation model was used to study the possible long-term patterns of ecotourism at the country scale for Belize, Central America. The model includes state variables for natural ecosystems and tourism infrastructure with a submodel for global oil supply. It was simulated over a 100-year period as an EXCEL spreadsheet with a time step of 1 year. In all of the simulations, a decline over time in income from ecotourists was found due to increases in the price of oil and due to environmental impacts by tourism. Conservation efforts can slow the declines, but ultimately, the system is shown to be unsustainable. The results are discussed in the context of long-term conservation potential in Belize.