Is Ecotourism just another ‘green’ trend? We would say no.
So what IS ecotourism?
According to The International Ecotourism Society, the ecotourism definition is: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
Ecotourism is focused on uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. There are several guidelines in place for those who partake in ecotourism. Namely, ecotourism:
- Focuses on pristine, unspoiled natural environments
- Minimizes impact on the environment
- Builds environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- Provides positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
- Provides direct financial benefits for conservation
- Provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- Raises awareness to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate
Now, this may seem like a tall order, but the aim of sustainable travel is a big vision. Given the very real threats of deforestation, a decline in biodiversity, and global climate change, ecotourism is more important than ever.
On the other hand, what is NOT ecotourism?
Just as important as the question “what is ecotourism” is understanding what it isn’t. For instance, someone may consider a walk through the rainforest to be an ecotourism activity. But this isn’t the case unless perhaps the particular rainforest trail benefits the environment and/or the local community. Some may also consider a rafting trip to be an ecotourism activity; however, this cannot be considered ecotourism unless it raises awareness and/or funds to help protect the watershed.
When in doubt, it’s best to consider all the definition parameters as set forth by The International Ecotourism Society.
Ecotourism: Thoughts on criticism.
Some critics of ecotourism argue that no travel can be eco-friendly considering the vast amount of fuel/carbon/resources involved in transport. This is a fair point.
However, there is another point to be made and it’s very simple to understand. Here it is: humans are not going to stop traveling.
Consider this example: Nobody wants an increase in landfill garbage, but humans are not going to stop making trash. So we invented recycling as a means to lower the impact and raise awareness. Similarly, because technology now makes travel accessible to many — not to mention that much of the global economy depends on it — it’s simply not realistic to launch a campaign to persuade people to travel less. However what we can do is raise awareness of environmental impact, of the importance of preserving nature, and of the empowerment available through community.
Ecotourism: Why is it important?
To add to that idea, not only is ecotourism intended to have less environmental impact than traditional tourism, but it also holds the potential to improve the social, cultural and economic well-being of travel destinations and local communities across the globe. If we raise awareness of pristine natural environments, are we not also creating evangelists for preservation? If we raise awareness of local communities do we not create a new support network for them?
There were a lot of people who said that recycling programs would never work… imagine where we’d be today had we given up on trying. Fortunately, ecotourism seems to be gaining coverage and popularity.
In closing, we leave you with this question: If we can shift someone’s vacation destination to be oriented around sustainability and education, do we not also create more aware global citizens?