2020 Volume 129 Issue 3 Pages 423-442
The significance of developing tourist destinations by promoting ecotourism in areas around Tanigawadake in Minakami, Gunma prefecture, Japan, are studied, along with related issues. The aim is to understand the rationale for introducing ecotourism, the reasons why it should be encouraged, and why tourists enjoy ecotourism. The town of Minakami has witnessed a decline in its tourism industry with a decrease in the number of tourists visiting hot springs and ski grounds. Meanwhile, a large concentration of tourists visits the area surrounding Tanigawadake for hiking and trekking. This imbalance is a cause for concern because it can adversely affect the natural environment. To address this, ecotourism has been introduced in the area around Tanigawadake in an attempt to balance environmental conservation with regional development. Ecotours have also been conducted by the Minakami Mountain Guide Association. As a result of the spread of information about the environment, awareness of environmental conservation can be seen in and around the area. It is also observed that tourism workers get a sense of satisfaction from exchanges with tourists and receive income. At the same time, these workers have different expectations about what should be achieved through ecotourism and the role it should play. In particular, a number of workers participating in ecotourism in this area also work in Minakami's tourism industry. They tend to believe that rebuilding the tourism industry in the town is imperative for its growth. However, because the scope of ecotourism was limited to the area around Tanigawadake, efforts focused on this region, limiting the expansion of tourism in Minakami. This was in contrast to the expectations of the workers. Besides, ecotours are positioned as niche travel products. To address this gap, it is important to achieve a balance between tourism and ecotourism by reconsidering local policies and practices, with due consideration given to the actual circumstances of the local tourism industry and the interests of tourism professionals.