Ecotourism has been advanced as a form of sustainable tourism that is expected to boost conservation and development in the rural communities of Southern Africa. In order to evaluate the contribution of ecotourism to conservation and communities’ development, an in-depth analysis of two ecotourism case studies was conducted from both South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively. A literature review of the ecotourism discourse was executed to highlight the theoretical framework of ecotourism development in Southern Africa. A review of literature on ecotourism indicates that the concept and context of ecotourism has not evolved uncontested. Through this study, it can be concluded that lack of consensus on what ecotourism represents has led to many tourism products and services designed under the banner of ecotourism, yet they represent everything against conservation and communities’ development. It is therefore the contention of this paper that the concept of ecotourism development will hover at the rhetoric, unless the multiplicity of stakeholders involved in the tourism matrix are agreeable on the boundaries of what constitutes ecotourism and what does not. Establishment of consensus on the ecotourism dynamic will contribute immensely on the crafting of policies that will help institute appropriate frameworks to guide ecotourism development in Southern Africa. Furthermore, an in-depth research of two case studies informing this paper indicates that the international condemnation of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme compounded with perceptions of poor governance has had a negative impact on Zimbabwe’s ecotourism sector. South Africa also suffered a similar tourism down turn due to the international condemnation of its discriminative apartheid policies and its role as an instigator of conflict in Southern Africa. It is therefore concluded that good governance, positive international relations and policies that are not confrontational with the West remain a major factor in determining the overall viability and sustainability of the ecotourism sector, hence facilitating sustainable development.
Key words: Ecotourism, sustainable development, community tourism management.
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