The following article was originally posted on Greenloons.com. Greenloons.com is is a Vienna, Virginia based company dedicated to providing nature enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists worldwide with trusted information about responsible, sustainable, and certified ecotourism travel vacations both in the U.S. and internationally. The original post can be found here.
What is ecotourism?
Ecotourism is a type of travel that focuses on the discovery of a natural or wildlife habitat in a manner that maximizes local economic and social goals, and reduces the possibility of environmental degradation.
It is about preserving ecosystems, educating visitors about conservation, empowering localities, operating sustainable tourist attractions – and, most of all, having fun and unique experiences!
Over the last two decades the term ecotourism has been incorrectly equated to other types of tourism including green, sustainable, cultural, adventure, responsible, and nature types of tourism.
One of the reasons that there is no globally agreed upon definition of ecotourism is that there are different interpretations of what constitutes a natural or wildlife habitat, what amounts to environmental degradation, and what characterizes local prosperity.
In North America, ecotourism has been heavily marketed and related to adventure travel where tourists are enticed to visit pristine areas across the globe so that they can, for example, go kayaking or horseback riding. Alternatively, in Europe, vacationers view ecotourism as a way to minimize their carbon footprint entirely by first traveling within Europe by train, for example, and then staying in rural areas where they can hike or go camping. Finally, within Africa and South America, there is an entirely different approach toward ecotourism where sightseers are encouraged to visit scenic and wildlife areas in order to help alleviate the host destination’s economic and social hardships and preserve local heritage and traditions.
Greenloons defends the principles of ecotourism in that it should:
- Support the conservation of natural areas and wildlife
- Minimize air and water pollution as well as tourist waste
- Offer safe and enriching or educational visitor experiences
- Respect the cultural tradition of the host destination
- Maintain and enhance the landscape so as to avoid physical or environmental degradation
- Maximize opportunities for local prosperity for the host destination in the form of long-term economic viability for tourism, local management control, quality employment, local retention of visitor spending, and fair distribution of economic and social benefits, and
- Efficiently use scarce or non-renewable resources.
Ecotourism, which is a type of travel that focuses on the discovery of a wildlife habitat in a manner that maximizes local goals and reduces damage to the environment, has been mixed with other types of tourism. Following are some distinct clarifications among other tourism terms have been incorrectly applied to ecotourism:
- Sustainable Tourism – does not deplete resources and allows for a smaller number of tourists to experience nature so as not to disturb the animal’s normal mating, feeding, or migratory patterns. An example is rafting trips on a free flowing river. The difference with ecotourism is that there may be no focus on the preservation of the natural habitat or economic benefit to the host destination.
- Adventure Tourism – spotlights physical outdoor activities. Examples include snorkeling, diving, or surfing a coastal area. The difference with ecotourism is that while these companies may want to preserve the environment where the activities are taking place, they may not necessarily be operating in a sustainable manner or providing educational opportunities.
- Cultural Tourism – centers on the discovery of the heritage of the host destination. An example would be a local artisan showing you how to weave a tapestry and learning from her about the traditional dress. The difference with ecotourism is that there is no focus on nature or wildlife.
- Responsible Tourism – attempts to minimize the environmental degradation of the host destination. An example is a wilderness camping trip using Leave No Trace ethics. The difference with ecotourism is that there may be no economic benefit to the host destination
- Nature Tourism – focuses on enjoying wildlife in their natural habitat. Examples include jungle lodgings in the Amazon or cruise ships that view penguins in Antarctica. The difference with ecotourism is that these trips may not have an educational component to them, may not be environmentally sustainable or responsible, and may not economically benefit the host destination.
- Green Tourism – applies to any activity or facility that operates in an environmentally friendly way. Examples include a rainforest lodge with composting toilets and solar powered lighting. The difference with ecotourism is that these lodges may be centrally controlled by a large corporation and therefore not necessarily benefit the host destination nor focus on conservation education or the preservation of wildlife.
We know that it is impossible to have a 100% carbon-offset vacation – we are humans after all!
But, if armed with trusted information, we believe that consumers, like you, can make appropriate (and fun) vacations choices for yourself and your family that reduce environmental damage and empower local communities. Whether it is going on a safari, participating in adventure travel or staying at an eco resort, you have a choice to for having a memorable and responsible vacation. You can opt to offset your vacation as well by participating in a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Gold Standard carbon emissions program, like Climate Care.