With so many of us making an effort to “clean up our own backyard” environmentally whether that be our home, city or country, it’s also important to be conscious about the effects our holidays and travel have in terms of sustainability and impact on our beautuful planet Earth.
Thankfully, “ecotourism” is now a “thing” around the world! This new, more conscious way of traveling is rapidly helping to set the standard in terms of future travel and tourism trends.
To help us learn more, I’ve scoured the web and found some interesting perspectives on what it’s all about and how you can also be a part of the movement…
What is Ecotourism?
The Nature Conservancy explains how modern jet travel and modern communications have made the earth a small place. Most countries now receive vast numbers of tourists from all over the world. People want the experiences of tourism, however, ideally it should occur in a way that does not ruin the environment that Mother Nature has so generously provided for us. In response to this challenge, ecotourism was born. It can be summed up as:
Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.
Here are 5 key pillars of ecotourism:
- Be conscientious and behave in a way that has low impact on the environment they visit.
- Respect biodiversity and local cultures.
- Support local efforts at conservation
- Local participation in decision-making about tourism.
- Education for both tourists and locals
Ways in which traditional tourism can negatively affect the world are:
- Environmental degradation
- Distortion of local economies and culture
- Climate change itself
Ecotourism offers an opportunity for both local communities and conservation to work economically and environmentally.
What is Nature Tourism?
ACS Distance Education provides an insight into nature tourism by citing the great diversity of natural attractions and why people wish to see them. However, this desire and the vast numbers of tourists must be balanced by careful management to avoid disruption of natural ecosystems.
Some key tourism and natural environment terms often used these days include:
- Nature-based tourism: a broad term that covers all tourism experiences centered on wild or natural environments.
- Environmental tourism: tourism that takes place in natural settings with an emphasis on understanding and conserving natural environments.
- Eco-tourism: tourism that has minimal impact on fragile natural environments and which focuses on providing nature-based experiences.
- Wildlife tourism: tourism that provides close contact with wildlife and nature in general.
- Adventure tourism: tourism that usually (but certainly not always) takes place in wilderness environments. Often, the natural environment is a venue or backdrop for adventure activities and the focus is on the activities rather than the environment.
Sustainability and good ecotourism have as their main features:
- No degradation of the attraction, feature or resource
- Promotion of a positive attitude to environmental matters
- Natural ecosystems take precedence over humans
- Tourists have a hands-on environmental experience
- Visitors receive environmental education
- Wildlife and the environment are benefited by the tourism.
They also point out that tourist growth has to be limited. Unlimited tourist growth threatens the very existence of the features that provide the attraction in the first place.
Travel Trends Towards Sustainability: This is Ecotourism
According to an article in the New York Times in 2017, 1.2 billion people traveled in 2015, but less than a half of them felt they did so in a sustainable manner. The answer to this problem is ecotourism, where travelers have a minimal impact on the environment.
The mantra of ecotourism is:
Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.
A successful example in Nicaragua is described and companies promoting ecotourism are mentioned.
Practices that tourists who wish to embrace ecotourism include:
- Choosing an airline that uses biofuels.
- Using reusable water bottles. Single use plastic bottles end up in the sea, where they do grave damage to the environment.
- Using solar panels to recharge batteries.
Travel with a Purpose – Voluntourism and Ecotourism
This short article starts by describing the need for ecotourism, depicting it as a type of tourism where a tourist leaves the place that he or she visits cleaner and better than when the visit began.
The part that cruise lines are playing in reducing their carbon footprints is discussed.
Some of the best destinations for ecotravel and tourism are also indicated:
- Costa Rica
- New Zealand
- Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)
- Patagonia (Chile & Argentina)
- Botswana & Zambia
The article concludes by talking about voluntourism.
Voluntourism is where you do volunteer work in the community you are visiting.
So in addition to experiencing a trip abroad, you’re also able to help those who are less fortunate or have been affected by natural disasters for example.
Can tourism really have conservation benefits?
This article featured in The Conversation and written by Guy Castley from Griffith University in Australia, points out that the huge amount of people traveling internationally has made global tourism, one of the world’s largest industries. Numbers of tourists are predicted to reach 1,600,000,000 by 2020.
This surge of tourists flooding the world is not sustainable and as a consequence ecotourism has been put forward as an answer to the problems created by this phenomenon. The author asks how much success ecotourism has in reducing the damage that tourism causes. He points out that it is supported by organizations involved in conservation, such as the World Wildlife Fund.
Properly planned ecotourism has the potential to greatly benefit the environment and contribute to species preservation, as is evidenced by examples given in the article from South Africa and Namibia. The benefits listed are purely local to those countries and the author asks how such benefits can be extended regionally and globally.
The impact of air travel and creating greenhouse emissions is covered thoroughly. This is but one example of how you must consider your “travel footprint”.
This post is from the International Ecotourism Tourism Society [TIES] and gives its updated principles. TIES was created in 1990 and updated its principles on its 25th anniversary in 2015. It did so in response to the wrong interpretations and greenwashing by the tourism industry.
Ecotourism is defined by TIES as,
Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education with the specification that education is to staff and guests.
The principles of ecotourism:
- Non-extractive and non-consumptive
- Leads to an ecological conscience
- Ecocentric in values and ethics in relation to nature
TIES regards these principles as major features of genuine ecotourism. In the time since the foundation of TIES much has been learned about the effects of tourism on both the environment and on local cultures.
Benefits of Ecotourism
Ecotourism created and managed by local communities has many benefits. This blog article on Greenliving indicates some of these:
- With local management, ecotourism protects the area that the tourists want to see and the local community also makes money.
- Ecotourists are educated in a very hands-on way about the ecosystem that they are visiting in a far more powerful ways than just reading about it or looking at a film.
- Ecotourism keeps development at bay, as the ecotourist does not want to see the ecosystem degraded and the indigenous people of the area driven to poverty by development.
- A concrete example off the positive effects of ecotourism is on fish populations in Fiji.
Ecotourism is a way to combat the scourges of deforestation and environmental degradation. It is ultimately a positive way forward towards a better future for all involved.
5 ways to get involved in ecotourism, foster a more sustainable travel experience
This article, written by Ashley Williams, is on the Accuweather website, gives the definition of ecotourism by the International Tourist Society:
Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and allows travelers to become educated about the local community.
She highlights how ecotourism can be beneficial:
it helps spread tourist dollars to local communities, protects nature and wildlife and eases the burden of overcrowding on popular tourist sites.
There are five ways you can practise sustainability as an ecotourist:
- Purchase locally made materials.
- Be sure your accommodation and tour provider practices sustainability.
- When traveling use public transport, bike or walk.
- Avoid waste and avoid using plastic.
- Respect local wildlife. Don’t buy souvenirs made from the wild animals and don’t feed or touch them.
Guidelines for Ecotravellers
Ecotour has created an awesome set of ecotourism guidelines, which comprehensively, but concisely, explains how you can best be a responsible eco-traveler. Even if you’re not specifically planning to be an ecotourist most of their suggestions are also useful and sensible for any international traveler.
There are six tips they suggest for your eco trip preparation:
1. Choose your travel provider on the basis of their eco principles and practices.
2. Educate yourself about the destination you are visiting by reading guidebooks and travel articles.
3. Be aware of local history, culture and customs of the locals before arriving. Learn enough knowledge of the language to be polite i.e. hello, please and thankyou.
4. When packing, if you want to bring gifts for local people in developing countries don’t give sweets; instead bring clothes and pens, and ask your tour operator or driver to give them to community elders so that you don’t encourage begging from children.
5. Learn about the vital eco-systems before arriving.
6. Consider your Carbon Footprint when using air travel.
They provide an additional ten tips for your actual trip:
1. Be sensitive to the local culture
2. Remember that you are a visitor and therefore be aware that your cultural values may differ from those of the locals.
3. Demonstrate responsible behaviour to other travellers who are less informed than you by acting as an example.
4. Use local transportation, guides, inns, restaurants and markets to benefit the local economy.
5. Be sensitive to displays of wealth in front of people from developing countries.
6. Ask your tour operator or guide what their established environmental guidelines are for limiting and improving tourist impact on the environment and local culture.
7. Comply with international environmental conventions.
8. Conserve Resources.
9. Don’t allow your guide to hunt endangered or threatened species or harvest rare plants for your consumption.
10. Encourage practices to conserve the environment, including the use of renewable resources in a sustainable manner and the conservation of non-renewable resources.
They also make a good point to maintain your commitment to conservation on your return home.
All around the world more and more accommodation providers are now marketing themselves as “Green Hotels” or at the very least adopting practices that limit their negative effects on the environment.
Green Hotels are environmentally-friendly properties whose managers are eager to institute programs that save water, save energy and reduce solid waste—while saving money—to help PROTECT OUR ONE AND ONLY EARTH!
The Green Hotel Association [GHA] is an organization devoted to providing hotels and resorts with information on how they can save energy and resources, become more sustainable and also assist in conservation.
Although “green certification” is an option, it can be very expensive, with a plethora of 800 certifying authorities vying for business. In many cases the GHA feels budget allocated to certification would actually be better spent on introducing green practices directly to accommodation instead.
Social Enterprise & Ecotourism
This article was written in 2008, however, its message is very pertinent today. Charities and NGOs have proven inadequate in dealing with the enormous social problems that the world faces. Social business is seen and described as a solution. Ecotourism is seen as a social business.
One organisation whose mission is to foster such a model is Ashoka. One of the success stories of Ashoka’s work is 3 Nepal Sisters, an organization, which has created a trekking program in Nepal for women, run by local women. It’s a great example of how social enterprise is being used in ecotourism.
3 Nepal Sisters is a private business generating greater social well-being while covering its costs through their trekking program, making it a classic social enterprise.
The article concludes with further research and analysis, largely coming from Latin America, extolling the potential merits of social enterprise.
What are your thoughts about ecotourism? I’d love to read your comments below…
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