Conservation or Recreation? A critical study of the label ecotourism in the promotion of Las Alpujarras and Sierra Nevada

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Ecotourism has started to develop in the last 30 years all around the world as an alternative to mass tourism. However, both academia and industry have not agreed on a universal definition of ecotourism. This lack of agreement can be the cause of operational confusion in the tourism industry, as many companies, with different ideas of what ecotourism, claim to fit the mold. In this thesis, I study the use of the label ecotourism in web promotion of the area of Las Alpujarras and Sierra Nevada in Spain. In order to see how companies and tourists reflect on ecotourism and which fundaments of it they consider important, I have conducted web content and TripAdvisor research and surveyed people who have visited the area. The results showed that companies have sustainable practices but prefer to highlight experiential aspects of ecotourism in their promotion, like authenticity and tranquility. Tourists on TripAdvisor reflected on these experiential aspects not directly related to ecotourism, while survey respondents’ gave more importance to conservation and education and were knowledgeable of what ecotourism is. I conclude that the use of the label ecotourism in this area has been beneficial as it has stimulated the development of sustainable practices in the tourism industry.
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