Ecotourism also called sustainable tourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.”
Ecotourism is a part of environmental conservation, and a form of sustainable travel that supports the local environment instead of putting more pressure on it and exploiting its resources.
Things are rarely simple, however, and ecotourism is a complex concept. Its importance is growing more and more each year, as more and more people travel farther and farther away.
The most important thing here is how aware are you as a tourist. Not only should you be aware of your impact both on the local environment and on the local community, but you should try, within reasonable limits, to reduce this impact. Common themes in this context are recycling, responsible water consumption, local craftsmanship, and cycling or walking as opposed to driving. A great emphasis is placed on protecting local species, especially the threatened species.
It’s also important not to be fooled by pleasant words — a vacation isn’t “ecotourism” just because it says so on the brochure, without any actual justification.
Ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry, and tour operators will try to lure clients using eco-advertising.
Looking at things from a wider perspective, it’s also about the size of the groups. You can’t do mass-ecotourism, it’s an oxymoron — ecotourism has to be done in small or medium groups.
If the industry sources are to be believed, the world’s airlines are estimated to be carrying close to 5.9 billion passengers by 2030. There’s no getting around it: as living standards increase globally, tourism is set to grow. Which means we will obviously be putting a huge burden on the already crumbling environments, as tourism places a substantial burden on ecosystems?
Tourism also necessitates additional infrastructure, such as water treatment plants, sanitation facilities, and lodging. Oftentimes, local communities are not able to sustainably offer these conditions and the results are devastating. Especially in vulnerable areas, the increase in visitors can lead to significant environmental degradation. Wherever people go, they leave behind garbage – and even if it is left in bins, it can still create a dangerous imbalance.
Safaris and animal photographing can scare creatures. Feeding wildlife can teach them bad habits and leave them depending on humans. Even just walking can lead to soil erosion and destruction of animal paths. It can be hard to accept, but everything we do has an impact on wildlife – we should be conscious of this.
The world absolutely needs more ecotourism. It teaches travelers to be more attuned to the pristine areas of the world, it helps educate people, and it provides funds for conservation as well as for local communities
Agreed that the terms ‘ecotourism’ and ‘sustainable tourism’ are an oxymoron on the whole, and that you can’t travel in a way that helps the environment, since you will be leaving your carbon footprint as you fly.
But there is still so much you can do to reduce your impact and at least in some aspects, even make a positive difference. There is always room for improvement. Here’s how.
- Minimize impact. If you must, travel by plane. If you can avoid it, try a train instead. Walk or bike instead of driving or at the very least, use public transportation. Respect local resources and don’t waste.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation. If it’s real ecotourism, much of the money you’re paying will go to conservation.
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people. Buy local, authentic products – they’re higher quality, genuine, and they support the locals. This way, they get much more financial benefits than from mass tourism – even if the number of tourists is much lower.
- An important fact of eco-friendly travels is avoiding “green” traps. Some people mistake any form of nature travel with ecotourism. Just because you’re in nature doesn’t mean you’re doing something right – on the contrary, it often means that your impact is high and negative. Things like jungle travelor adventure travel are not eco-friendly and shouldn’t be confused as such even though many touristic operators use buzz words like “green” or “eco-friendly” – this is a clear case of green washing.
That’s the bottom line; ecotourism should concern three main things:
- the wellbeing of the local environment
- the wellbeing of the locals
- The high-quality experience of the tourist.
It’s a way to make a massive difference and it’s something which I hope more and more people will start doing.