What Is Eco-Tourism & Why Do We Need More Of It?

Eco-tourism is a phrase that is heard a lot over the past decade and it is a reaction to everything that is wrong with the current tourism industry. It is a backlash against the excesses, extravagances, and profligacy of unsustainable mass tourism and an attempt to reconcile a love for travel, with a desire to protect and enhance the natural world and communities around us.

According to The International Eco Tourism Society, eco-tourism is ‘Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.’  

 

This definition is from 1990, so it is not a new concept, it is what tourism should be.

 

It is the most sustainable form of tourism out there.

Eco-tourism should:

 

  • Benefit the hosts and the visitors, rather than imposing on them, which helps sustain and empower local communities and ecosystems 

  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and the community

When managed responsibly, eco-tourism is a fantastic way to take advantage of the resources you already have to provide a revenue-generating alternative to urbanisation, building huge malls, unsustainable agriculture and poaching. It also does not require too much investment because the majority of the attraction is naturally there.

Financial benefits, through tours, admission fees or donations, or indirect benefits, through taxes are necessary to sustain and support to local community.  We stress that the locals must be involved at all levels of management.

 

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  • Foster positive experiences for both visitors and hosts

  • Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate

 

Initiatives should support locally-owned businesses and ensure that the local indigenous inhabitants of the to control their land and natural resources.  This is a widely discussed topic, especially in Central and Southern America.

We encourage travellers to be respectful and sensitive about local customs and laws.

 

  • Impact lightly on the natural environment with a low carbon footprints 

  • Continue over time without depleting resources or degrading an environment

Many definitions of eco-tourism tend to focus exclusively on the natural world. Some destinations labeled as ‘eco-tourism’ are simply travel destinations which allow you to enjoy the natural world without interaction with the local community. True eco-tourism destinations are those which consider not just some but all of the above concerns.

 

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Why Do We Need Eco-Tourism?

 

Our world is in crisis, and whether we are at home or abroad, all of us should be considering how to become part of the solution to the world’s ills rather than part of the problem. Human beings have an amazing capacity to change our environments for the better and most importantly, the ability to conserve natural environments. When we make the right choices, vote with our wallets and advocate for certain each of us has the power to create positive change for our own wellbeing, those of others and the planet.  

Unfortunately, when we get together and descend on a destination in large numbers, we become a plague. Mass tourism can be like a virus on the face of our planet. Though individuals are not to blame directly, as a collective, we are responsible for a lot of harm.

Some are disrespectful to local cultures and customs, like taking inappropriate photos at places of worship.

Some inflict physical pain to the local animals due to lack of knowledge and disregard to the local animals, like standing on top of a turtle.

In many of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, this harm is very much being felt. The huge influx of visitors in certain places puts a huge strain on the natural and man-made resources in an area. It can have a detrimental effect on the local environment and on local people. All too often, short-term economic gain has been prioritised over long-term benefits, and ugly over-development can blight a region.

Surely you have seen photos of this paradise before.

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Maya Beach (pictured above) in Koh Phi Phi Leh island in Thailand is now closed.  After years of receiving 5000 visitors a day,  pollution from litter, boats and sun cream, has destroyed around 80% of the coral around the bay, it has been decided that enough is enough. Sites that were once ‘eco-tourist’ sites have been destroyed by irresponsible tourists and improper management of the area.  Hopefully, we can learn from these mistakes.

Eco-tourism usually exists in regions of the world with masses of biodiversity, where travellers can enjoy being outdoors. Not only does it benefit the natural environment, but engaging in outdoor activities in nature improves our well-being.  Our vitamin D levels rise, we exercise more and are much happier. We hike, cycle canoe, kayak and sail – all of which are slow travel, low-impact outdoor activities.

We can visit stunning national parks and animals sanctuaries to admire and appreciate the unique creatures local to that region.  Whilst doing all of this, we contribute to GDP and creating jobs, sustainably without cause environmental damage.  Many countries are a tourism-based economy, however in many instances, this is traditional mass tourism, rather than eco-tourism.

For example, Costa Rica, in Central America is a ‘case study’ worthy destination for eco-tourism, as it is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity and 25% of the land are protected areas and national parks. In 2016, travel and tourism contributed to 5.1% of it’s GDP.

 

Keel-billed Toucan, Ramphastos sulfuratus

 

Instead of choosing a massive resort, that we do not leave the entire trip, we can explore alternative accommodation options that do exist.

For example:

  • Low-impact tent camping or glamping for those who enjoy more comfort
  • Agri-tourism/ farm stay accommodations on, for example, organic farms, where you can help out in places where people are improving food production for the better – like a kibbutz in Israel
  • Eco-hotels, guest houses, villas or B&Bs.

 

Truly sustainable accommodation will take into account energy usage, water use, land use, materials use, waste management and the impact on the local community. 

Eco-tourism destinations allow us to experience the wonders of our world without putting them in threat. We are able to learn more about different natural environments, animals and the local history. We can go on holiday safe in the knowledge that in years to come our grandchildren will be able to do the same, and that we are not damaging the very wonders that we have travelled to see. As humans, we enjoy being comfortable but eco-tourism is a way to push our boundaries and better ourselves as we try new things.

That being said, we need to stay conscious of the fact that less environmentally tour companies or hotels, that are simply greenwashing to attract more customers.  Do your research and read as many reviews as possible. 

Read our two articles on how you can can put eco-tourism’s principles in action and be a responsible traveller here and here.

Read here about how to determine whether an animal sanctuary really is a safe haven for the animals who call it home.

 

Stay tuned some eco-guides to various cities around the world.

 

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