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What Is Ecotourism?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Ecotourism is a form of tourism which places a heavy emphasis on appreciation and protection of the natural environment, with ecotourists traveling to regions of ecological interest around the world. This form of tourism is also sometimes called ecological tourism, nature travel, or responsible tourism. Like other forms of tourism, ecotourism touches on some very complex environmental, social, and ethical issues, and a number of professional organizations have banded together to create a firm definition for ecotourism so that standards can be established for ecotourism programs.

In order to qualify as ecotourism, several criteria must be met. The most important criterion is, in the eyes of many people, minimal environmental impact, as people do not want to damage the natural environment while they are trying to appreciate it. Ecotourism also typically includes an educational aspect, with visitors learning about the environments they visit, and there is a heavy emphasis on conservation. In some cases, people may even participate in a service program on an ecotourist trip, doing something to actively benefit the environment while enjoying it.

Critics of ecotourism feel that tourism to sensitive areas should not be encouraged at all, even when companies fulfill their claims of environmental responsibility. Some critics also concerned about the displacement of native peoples, and the ecotourism industry has responded to these concerns by placing more emphasis on native cultures and traditional ways of life. For critics, ecotourism seems like a way to enjoy a tourist trip without acknowledging the environmental consequences of tourism, and this is a major bone of contention between some environmental activists and the ecotourism industry.

Promoters of ecotourism point out that without ecotourism, some regions of the world might not be saved. Ecotourism creates a valuable market for pristine wilderness and the natural environment, encouraging governments and communities to prioritize the preservation of natural habitat.

Ecotourism is especially popular in Africa, South America, and Asia, where stretches of largely untouched land still exist extant in some regions. Tourists can travel to various locations by animal, boat, or foot, and while on location, they are typically encouraged to camp or use basic facilities provided by the tourist company. Companies which cater to ecotourists typically minimize luxuries, with the understanding that luxury often has a negative environmental impact. Once on site, the tourists may participate in guided trips, visit interesting sites in the area, or interact with native people to learn more about their culture.

Numerous ecotourism companies offer an assortment of packages to people who are interested in going on an ecotourism adventure, and these companies typically include details about the action they are taking to benefit the environment. For consumers who are concerned about greenwashing and misleading advertising information, it can help to get a recommendation from a certifying organization which asks its members to submit to inspection and adhere to certain principles.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Orcadeal — On Dec 24, 2013

FeistyFox, don't forget those Pros — as you said, the creation of economies in poor areas. Someone has to build, man and maintain all that infrastructure and treat the sewage.

Conservation is far more likely when the economy is stable and people have a steady income.

By MagicStrom — On Dec 23, 2013

One of my first trips out of the country was ecotourism in the galapagos islands. I never could have imaged a place so stunning! For the few days I was there, all I did was sit on beaches and grassy plains and snap the occasional picture. I had no need to camp or scuba dive or water ski or parasail or whatever. I think ecotourism means being content with your surroundings.

By FeistyFox2 — On Dec 23, 2013

I’m glad the article touches on both the pros and cons of this emerging industry; it’s a tricky balance between the preservation of nature and the creation of economies in poor areas. Even though ecotours are celebrating the natural beauty of a locale, an ecotourism business must still house, feed, entertain and transport all those tourists. Don’t forget the infrastructure this entails, including the construction of electrical grids and sewage systems (not to mention the treatment and disposal of that sewage).

How pristine is that jungle or beach sounding now?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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