Ecotourism has developed as a niche industry in New Zealand over the last 20 years. There have been many attempts to define ecotourism as to create an industry standard as to what tourists should encounter or expect when partaking in eco-tourist activities. Defined broadly most ecotourism definitions involve mention of some conservation value, educational value, local ownership, small scale enterprise, economic benefit for local communities, the relevance of cultural resources, minimum impacts on environment and sustainability of the activity (Higham & Carr & Gale, 2001, p.9). To be concise ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation, and in addition ecotourism needs to be a form of tourism that is increasingly understood to be based primarily on nature-based attractions, learning-centred and conducted in a way that makes every reasonable attempt to be environmentally, socio-culturally and economically sustainable (Higham & Carr & Gale, 2001, p.9). Even this concise definition of ecotourism can apply to may types of general tourism activities in part, but a main focus on the experience of natural areas in an activity would help define an activity largely as an eco-tourist type activity, such as a jet boat experience into Fiordland National Park.
Wairaurahiri Jet is an eco-tourist operation that transports tourists, hunters and trampers, to experience the remote areas of Fiordland National Park. The activities that tourists partake in are a jet boat ride up and down the Wairaurahiri River, with a guided walk in the Waitutu forest viewing and identifying indigenous flora and fauna, and an overnight stay in the Wairaurahiri Lodge (The Experience, n.d., para. 3). There is also an option of a tourist becoming part of a stoat trapping project, where the person for the price of a jet boat ride fee sponsors a stoat trap for two years and also includes a jet boat ride to the Waitutu Forest (Stoats Trapping Project, n.d., para 1). The main focus of the Wairaurahiri Jet tourist operation is to experience a remote part of Fiordland National Park, educate people about flora and fauna in the Waitutu forest and encourage the tourists to protect the birdlife against foreign predators. This focus coincides with the definition of ecotourism as the activity is ecologically sustainable, learning centred that has a focus on conservation, with a primary goal of exposing a natural attraction, it is a socially accepted activity and is budgeted in a way that is economically sustainable. The business model of Wairaurahiri Jet extends into the broader definition of an ecotourism venture as it is locally owned, is a small scale enterprise, and will have a total economic benefit for the local community as tourists will ultimately spend at other businesses in the locality. The Wairaurahiri Jet has many positive impacts on the environment, which up hold the main ideals associated with conservation.
Ecotourism within New Zealand has both positive and negative impacts on the environment, but due to the educational aspect of eco-tourist activities matters important to conservation are brought into the public arena. In particular the Wairaurahiri Jet operation gives an eco-tourist the opportunity to take matters of conserving diminishing bird populations into their own hands. The negative implications of using a jet boat in a pristine river system can amount to hydrocarbon pollution, noise pollution and adverse water clarity but the actual impacts of the jet boat on the river are in reality very low as the river has a high flow, and is used sparingly. The major impact of using a jet boat to take tourists into remote areas is the unwanted spread of invasive species particularly plants which damage the natural river and forest qualities. The spread of invasive species undermines conservation ethics as the protection of pristine natural features are compromised. The design and management of a lodge sympathetic to impacts on the surrounding environment promotes conservation ideals, and encourages the awareness of issues involved with conservation. A local government awards system engages eco-tourist operators to run sustainably, and strive to gain public recognition for their contribution to environmental standards. Ecotourism is essential for conservation, as failure by central government to directly fund government agencies responsible for conservation leads to lack of protection for sensitive areas, and ecotourism is a means that can privately fund efforts towards the maintenance and protection of areas with a high conservation value.