I’m not a biologist, but my basic understanding of an ecosystem is an interconnected system of organisms that rely on one another to maintain their existence as they continuously transfer energy from one organism to another. It's nature's way of sustaining life.
But what does this have to do with tourism? Aside from our focus on developing tourism in a way that protects and promotes the delicate ecosystems within a destination, there is also an interesting comparison between an ecosystem and all the moving parts of a destination. We believe that tourism, conservation and local economies can be and should be approached in a similar holistic, ecosystem way. Rather than focus on only one aspect of a destination, we need to look at the entire ecosystem - how tourism, conservation and local economies interact, what needs they have, and how they can support one another to benefit the entire destination.
Just as energy and nutrients drive the biological ecosystem, money and experiences drive the destination ecosystem. Money helps fund peoples desire to travel, and money is transferred from a visitor to a tourism business in exchange for a unique travel experience. Conservation areas and local economies receive money from travelers and travel businesses (gate fees, hotel stays, guided tours, etc.) and use it to sustain their conservation activities and livelihood. This, in turn, helps protect and enhance the destination so that travelers continue to be inspired to travel to it, maintaining the flow of money to support the destination.
Just like the biological ecosystem after which it is modeled, the destination ecosystem is a delicately balanced system relying on each component to work together to sustain the destination. If done well, tourism, conservation and local economies can sustain themselves; but when done poorly, the system collapses. Biologists realized this long ago and take an ecosystem approach to the areas they study and manage. However, for a destination, such an approach is often lacking, which results in damage to the destination as well as the organizations and people within them.
For example, if park managers decided that they wanted more antelope in their park and supported the growth of the population without looking at the entire ecosystem, they would soon find that their large antelope population had eaten all the grass, and the ecosystem would deteriorate. The same is true for a destination, if the focus is purely on one aspect of a destination like growing the local economy, attracting as many visitors as possible, or conserving the destination, without consideration for anything else, the system will crash and the destination will suffer. Rather than looking at a tourism business or a park or the communities around it in isolation, an integrated approach to destinations and the tourism, conservation and local economic activities within them is vital for long-term sustainability.
Integrated planning, implementation, and monitoring of activities within a destination helps ensure that the balance between all the key players is maintained and that each one can leverage the other for its own benefit and the benefit of the destination. It is only when this integrated ecosystem works together in balance that a destination truly thrives.