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What Is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism is a sustainable travel approach focused on conserving nature and improving local communities' well-being. It emphasizes responsible tourism practices that minimize environmental impact and foster appreciation for different cultures and ecosystems. By choosing ecotourism, travelers can enjoy unique experiences while contributing to conservation efforts. How might your next adventure support the principles of ecotourism? Continue reading to explore the possibilities.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A waterfall on the island of Tasmania.
A waterfall on the island of Tasmania.

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.

Ecotourism includes scenic trails for jogging.
Ecotourism includes scenic trails for jogging.

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.

Rock climbing is an example of an ecotourism activity.
Rock climbing is an example of an ecotourism activity.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ecotourism and why is it important?

Winter ecotourism jobs focus on snow sports.
Winter ecotourism jobs focus on snow sports.

Ecotourism is a form of sustainable travel that supports the conservation of natural environments and improves the well-being of local people. It's important because it promotes responsible travel practices, reduces the negative impacts of conventional tourism, and fosters environmental awareness. According to The International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism also contributes to the protection of natural and cultural heritage while providing economic benefits to local communities.

How does ecotourism benefit local communities?

Ecotourists may charter a private aerial tour of scenic locations.
Ecotourists may charter a private aerial tour of scenic locations.

Ecotourism benefits local communities by providing them with sustainable economic opportunities. It encourages the use of local guides, services, and products, which keeps the economic benefits within the community. Furthermore, it often involves education and empowerment, which can lead to community development and better stewardship of natural resources. The United Nations Environment Programme highlights that ecotourism can contribute to poverty alleviation by creating jobs and generating income for locals.

What are some examples of ecotourism activities?

Iconic and scenic destinations are a large part of ecotourism.
Iconic and scenic destinations are a large part of ecotourism.

Examples of ecotourism activities include wildlife safaris in Africa that support conservation efforts, bird-watching tours in the Amazon Rainforest that educate tourists about biodiversity, and hiking in national parks that preserve trails and natural habitats. Other activities might involve participating in conservation or research projects, such as sea turtle monitoring in Costa Rica, or cultural immersion experiences that respect and celebrate indigenous traditions.

How can I ensure that my travel is ecologically responsible?

A coastal hiking trail might attract ecotourists to an area.
A coastal hiking trail might attract ecotourists to an area.

To ensure your travel is ecologically responsible, choose accommodations and tour operators with verifiable eco-credentials, minimize your carbon footprint by selecting less environmentally damaging transportation options, and follow the principles of 'Leave No Trace'. Additionally, support local economies by purchasing local goods and services, and respect wildlife and natural habitats by keeping a safe distance and not disturbing the ecosystem. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council provides criteria for sustainable travel that can guide your choices.

Are there any certifications or labels for ecotourism?

Yes, there are several certifications and labels for ecotourism that help travelers identify responsible travel options. These include the Rainforest Alliance Certified, Green Globe, and EarthCheck. These certifications ensure that businesses adhere to specific environmental, social, and economic standards. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council also recognizes various certification programs that align with its sustainability criteria, providing a benchmark for responsible tourism practices.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

Orcadeal

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.

MagicStrom

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.

FeistyFox2

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?

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    • A waterfall on the island of Tasmania.
      By: magann
      A waterfall on the island of Tasmania.
    • Ecotourism includes scenic trails for jogging.
      By: Dusan Kostic
      Ecotourism includes scenic trails for jogging.
    • Rock climbing is an example of an ecotourism activity.
      By: Massimo
      Rock climbing is an example of an ecotourism activity.
    • Winter ecotourism jobs focus on snow sports.
      By: Marina Karkalicheva
      Winter ecotourism jobs focus on snow sports.
    • Ecotourists may charter a private aerial tour of scenic locations.
      By: meoita
      Ecotourists may charter a private aerial tour of scenic locations.
    • Iconic and scenic destinations are a large part of ecotourism.
      By: HappyAlex
      Iconic and scenic destinations are a large part of ecotourism.
    • A coastal hiking trail might attract ecotourists to an area.
      By: wiktor bubniak
      A coastal hiking trail might attract ecotourists to an area.