How ecotourism works at the community-level: the case of whale-watching in the Azores

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Whale-watching is one of the fastest growing tourism industries worldwide, often viewed as a sustainable, non-consumptive strategy for the benefits of cetacean conservation and the coastal communities, alternative to and incompatible with whaling. Yet, there is paucity of research on how things actually work out at the community-level. Drawing on the research literature and my own ethnographic fieldwork, this article bridges a knowledge gap in this field while examining an Azorean context where tourism has brought a re-commodification of the whale for the community (observing wildlife as opposed to harpooning it) in the last 20 years. The analysis is focused on four main community-level implications: governance of common maritime resources, and tourism's contribution to economic sustainability, cultural identity and social relations. It is shown that whale-watching, as any other form of community-based ecotourism, is not a panacea that always promotes biodiversity conservation and economic and sociocultural sustainability for the host communities. Moreover, expanding on the theorisation of emerging institutional fields by Lawrence and Phillips, the political, historical, economic and sociocultural context of the community involved is a key factor for understanding local agency and the local specific features of new fields.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-211
Number of pages16
JournalCurrent Issues in Tourism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2015


  • Whale-watching
  • Whaling
  • Sustainability
  • Community-based tourism
  • Governance
  • Impact
  • Climate-change
  • Tourism
  • Conservation
  • Impacts
  • Management
  • Politics
  • Behavior
  • Dolphins
  • Conduct
  • Boats

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