Megan Youdelis, PhD Candidate* - York University
In Asia, and worldwide, there continues to be difficulty in reconciling conservation and development interests within inhabited tropical forests. In many Southeast Asian countries, there is longstanding conflict between conservation policy and ethnic minority livelihoods. Ecotourism is being increasingly adopted as a livelihood strategy by communities living in protected areas in the hopes that conservation and development might be achieved simultaneously. While local inhabitants can gain some income and use ecotourism to dispel negative stereotypes that ethnic minorities are 'forest destroyers'(Forsyth and Walker, 2008), the impacts on local community relations and land use are far more complicated and contentious. The contradiction in encouraging both self-maximizing entrepreneurial ethics and modest conservation-friendly living ironically forces conservation and development interests into opposition. Furthermore, the unequal opportunities to participate and capitalize in ecotourism can lead to increasing inequality and individualistic behaviour among community members. This article explores the tensions, contradictions and implications for sustainability of local entrepreneurship in ecotourism within conservation zones, using the case study of Ban Mae Klang Luang in the Doi Inthanon National Park in Thailand. I also explore how community members use discourses of local Karen culture to resist and counteract issues of individualism and inequality that they perceive to be associated with entrepreneurship in ecotourism. Overall, the expansion-oriented trajectory of entrepreneurial ecotourism businesses may pose significant challenges to the long-term viability of ecotourism as a sustainable development strategy.