The land-use planning (LUP) process, strategies, and activities for ecotourism potentials depend on the destination and its characteristics including the geographic, economic, socio-cultural context (FAO, 2020), and ecotourism development stages among other factors (Tasci, Semrad and Yilmaz, 2013; FAO, 2020). It is known that not all areas have equal potentials to realize sustainable ecotourism development. For instance, some areas might have greater attraction potential for satisfying the benefits of ecotourism than others. Whatever the case may be, the LUP process is critical to realize ecotourism’s potential as a powerful tool for biodiversity conservation, livelihood improvement (Drumm and Moore, 2005), and delivering an experience that meets visitor expectations (WWF, 2001). These three distinct, but closely interrelated and functionally interdependent aspects of ecotourism, conservation management, economic development and visitor satisfaction, must fully understood by land-use planners before moving ahead with plans to implement any ecotourism activities. There should also be a clear understanding of the relationship between local communities and environmental conservation and how this might be improved through their involvement for planning and implementing sustainable ecotourism development (WWF, 2001).
Ecotourism is a form of multidimensional economic activity that contributes actively to the local development through the conservation of natural and cultural resources. Under the right circumstances, ecotourism can have less impact than other economic alternatives, such as expanding agriculture, unsustainable utilization of forests, consumptive use of wild animals, and other similar activities (Kiss, 2004; Li, 2004); it can serve as a means of reducing local threats to biodiversity (Lapeyre, 2010). The principle is that if communities perceive a benefit from conserving of natural resources, their livelihood sustenance will no longer depend on the exploitation of these natural resources (Goodwin, 2002; Rechlin et al., 2008). Conversely, the explosive trend of ecotourism and its promises of rapid development may create a maximum challenge to the resources of a country or region, and bring undesirable side effects that can threaten the very resources it depends on (WWF, 2001; Lapeyre, 2010; Angessa, Lemma, Yeshitela, and Endrias, 2022). Besides, poorly planned and managed eco/tourism growth has led to irreversible degradation of the biodiversity resources; destroyed ecological functions; raise the cost of living; and damage socio-cultural traditions and lifestyles of the local community (Mann, 2006; UNECA, 2011). Similarly, there are reported incidents where forms of ecotourism, which were not sufficiently community focused had a negative impacts on the environment and the livelihoods of the local community, where the case in Brazil was the best occasions (WWF, 2001). To maintain the sustainability of the local environment and the living conditions of residents, any ecotourism planning and implementation should build from the knowledge of community values and organizational needs to guide more locally-appropriate ecotourism development that fits with other community needs, initiatives, and opportunities. In line with this, community-based ecotourism (CBET) might play a sensible role in ecological security, resource sustainability and community development that can bring people into conservation (Ngece, 2002).
Community-based ecotourism is a special form of ecotourism that involves local and indigenous communities in its planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and decision making process that contributes to the well-being of the society (Tasci et al., 2013). In principle it aims to achieve the triple–win situations, that is, to facilitate community development and empowerment, enhance visitors’ experiences, and maintains long term conservation of the natural and cultural resources through community control and participation. Under suitable conditions, CBET helps to conserve biodiversity, alleviate poverty and benefit groups of stakeholders such as indigenous and/or traditional communities as well as disadvantaged and marginalized groups living in and around ecotourism destinations. The attraction of CBET is the prospect of linking biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, whilst simultaneously reducing rural poverty and satisfying the needs of eco-tourists (Kiss, 2004).
Corresponding to eco/tourism when the underlining premises are disregarded, CBET practices can also incur negative environmental impacts to the ecotourism destinations, and cause economic and socio-cultural costs on the local community (Tasci et al., 2013). However, appropriately planned CBET can lead to the management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity and life support systems (WWF, 2001). More than advocacy, nowadays CBET is viewed as an enterprise that, if properly planned, implemented and developed, will benefit not only local communities, but most importantly, the very local resources that local residents heavily depend on (Angessa, 2020). The planning and promotion of such environmentally sound, economically feasible, and socio-culturally acceptable ecotourism, especially in areas of significant natural endowments like that of the Lake Wanchi watershed (LWW) and its adjacent landscapes, offers many opportunities in biodiversity conservation while realizing sustainable local development strategies.
The unique natural and cultural landscapes, historical features, and rich flora and fauna make the LWW and its adjacent landscapes among the most popular ecotourism destinations in Ethiopia (Ogato, Abdise, Gammie, and Abebe, 2014; Teressa, 2015a; Angessa et al., 2022). Owing to the topographic attractiveness of the landscape, most tourists call Lake Wanchi and its adjacent landscape as “The Switzerland of Africa”, while others call it as “the hidden garden of Eden” (Angessa, 2020). As a result, Wanchi Ecotourism Association (WETA) was established in 2002 with the major aim of fostering the conservation of natural resources while supporting the livelihoods of local communities. It also aimed to develop and introduce a consolidated ecotourism management approaches that serves as a model for other areas elsewhere in the country having similar topography and social-ecological settings.
Despite its social-ecological importance for ecotourism development, LWW and its adjacent landscapes presently faced with severe environmental degradations leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services on which local livelihoods depend (Angessa et al., 2020; Angessa, Lemma, and Yeshitela, 2021). For instance, land-use and land-cover change study from 1973–2017 indicated that about 62% of the original landscape found in the watershed experienced land-use and land-cover conversions in one way or the other (Angessa et al., 2021). To this end, Pinel (1998), stated that CBET planning approach can be particularly relevant for areas facing difficult conversion from deteriorating or collapsed resource-based economies. On the other hand, most ecotourism developments in Ethiopia, including WETA are characterized by lack of environmental standards and haphazard planning (Angessa et al., 2022). Other studies also indicated that the lack of LUP based on the potential of the site as one of the critical natural resource management problems (Angessa, 2020); and absence of appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks for sustainable ecotourism development (Ogato et al., 2014; Teressa, 2015a) in the LWW and its adjacent landscapes. As a result it has been difficult to manage natural resources, monitor environmental changes and design sustainable environmental management strategies (Angessa et al., 2021). In addition, Teressa (2015a) stated that the area lacks land-use zoning, which could be evidenced by the absence of well-designed trekking pass, parking facilities, camping sites, walking roads along the lake, boarding, eco-lodge and other catering facilities down the lake. These, in turn, have hindered the contribution of the ecotourism initiatives for biodiversity conservation, landscape restoration, and socio-economic development of the local communities and the country at large (Angessa et al., 2022). Consequently, appropriate LUP and management was recommended to the LWW and its adjacent landscapes to optimize the positive economic, environmental, and socio-cultural impacts of ecotourism development on the livelihood of local communities (Ogato et al., 2014; Teressa, 2015a; Angessa et al., 2021). Therefore, LUP based on the potential of the site at the LWW and its adjacent landscapes can provide direct benefits that can offset pressure from other less sustainable activities that make use of natural and cultural resources and reduces the undergoing environmental degradations and socio-cultural deteriorations (see also Angessa et al., 2022).
To determine the most desirable future land-use patterns, the potential or suitability of a particular site or region for various development activities should be carefully studied (Bunruamkaew & Murayama, 2012). Currently, Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing technologies supplemented with different biophysical and socio-economic data are commonly used as an integral part of spatial planning and multiple objective decision-making including identifying potential sites for ecotourism development (Bunruamkaew and Murayama, 2011; 2012; Šiljeg et al., 2019; Sahani, 2019). There are different multiple criteria determinations and various factor classifications needed for identifying and prioritizing potential ecotourism sites. Several scholars used different criteria and indicators for identifying potential ecotourism sites and prioritizing for the sustainability of ecotourism developments. Kumari et al. (2010) applied five index-based indicators such as ecological value, ecotourism attractiveness, environmental resiliency, ecotourism diversity and wildlife for the identification of potential ecotourism sites. Ghamgosar (2011) used six physical elements as indicators such as slope, aspect, elevation, soil, rock and land-use for the identification of potential tourism sites. Bunruamkaew and Murayama (2012) applied five criteria (with nine indicators in the form of GIS-based thematic layers) such as landscape/naturalness, wildlife, topography, accessibility and community characteristics for the identification of suitable site for ecotourism development. Gourabi and Rad (2013) applied eight thematic layers such as sunny days, temperature, relative humidity, slope, direction, soil texture, water resources and vegetation density. Ullah & Hafiz (2014) applied five criteria (consisting of 15 indicators) such as landscape, wildlife, topography, cultural heritage, and community characteristics to identify suitable sites for ecotourism development. Asmamaw and Gidey (2018) used five criteria (consisting of seven indicators) to assess potential ecotourism sites including environment, pedology, topography, recreational attractiveness, and climate. Šiljeg et al. (2019) used four criteria (consisting of ten indicators) including landscape, topography, hydrology and community as indicators of potential ecotourism sites. From these variations in the usage of the criteria and indicators/thematic layers, it can be noted that the selection of criteria and indicators mainly depends on the basic characteristics of the ecotourism destination under consideration, the availability of potential ecotourism attraction resources in that locality, expert knowledge (judgment) and other similar factors. However, landscape/naturalness and topography are the most frequently used criteria appeared in almost all surveyed literatures used GIS-based multiple criteria objectives for identification of potential ecotourism sites. Hence, in this study two criteria and four indicators, namely, landscape/naturalness (consisting of visibility and vegetation-cover) and topography (consisting of slope and elevation) was determined based on the characteristics of the study landscape, and combination of various other factors.
Sustainable LUP and management based on the potential of the site for ecotourism development, particularly in environmentally sensitive and ecologically fragile ecosystem is indispensable to maximize the positive impacts and minimize the negative impacts of ecotourism destinations (Angessa et al., 2022). Zoning is another useful management tool in environmental planning that is of a particular importance in defining the optimum use of an area based on its potentials (Ohadi et al., 2013). As part of the process of sustainable area management, zoning is likely to relate specifically to the types of activities that are permitted in particular zones, as well as delineating those activities that are not permitted (Mason, 2013). It is one of the most important issues facing most protected areas and ecotourism destinations and is usually the best way to reconcile an array of different issues and uses of an area (Kelleher, 1999). The concept of integrated management zone planning can perhaps best be understood by considering the different approaches to reconciling human demands of sustainable development including environmental conservation, economic development, socio-cultural integration and community empowerment through ecotourism development that have evolved over the past century.
With this background information, this paper aims to identify suitable areas for different CBET experiences, and suggest sustainable LUP based on the potential of the site in the social-ecological LWW and its adjacent landscapes using GIS and remote sensing applications supplemented with biophysical and socio-economic field data. More specifically, it was to: (1) identify potential ecotourism attraction sites in the study landscape using multiple criteria decision analysis; (2) producing land-use suitability maps for future CBET development activities and (3) suggest integrated land-use management zones based on the potentials of the sites for effective application and implementation of sustainable CBET development.