Ecotourism: How To Travel in a Sustainable, Responsible, and Conservational Way
During a vacation, most people want to just want to relax with a good drink by the beach or a pool. Not have to worry about working or doing anything whatsoever. That is all well and good, and sometimes, much needed. However, there are others who go to a specific place to explore and learn about the area. This is where ecotourism comes into play. With advances in transportation and information gathering, anyone can visit even the most remote places on Earth. In fact, tourism is the world’s biggest industry. People want to experience nature and the world around them. But with a lot of tourism, comes a lot of pollution. Ecotourism focuses on exploration in a way that does not leave a huge impact on the natural environment.
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The ecotourism definition is as follows: responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education. It is broadly defined as low impact travel, often to endangered or undisturbed locations. It is much different than regular tourism because it allows for the traveler to become educated about the areas. Both the physical landscape and the cultural characteristics. Ecotourists often provide funds for conservation and benefits the economic development of places that are usually impoverished.
Ecotourism and other forms of sustainable travel have their origins with the environmental movement of the ‘70s. Though, ecotourism actually did not become very popular until the late ‘80s. During this time, environmental awareness was increasing and people had a desire to travel to natural locations instead of tourist hotspots. Since the rise of ecotourism, the tourism industry has seen the development of many organizations which specialize in ecotourism.
Principles of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. Those who claim to be ecotourists or are part of ecotourism, should adopt these key principles.
- Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial aid for conservation.
- Generate financial aid for both local people and private industry.
- Deliver memorable interpretive experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
- Design, construct, and operate low-impact facilities.
- Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the indigenous people in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.
Three Parts of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is made up of three important parts. Sustainable travel and tourism, conservation, and being based in a community throughout your travel. Each of these parts contributes to the main principles of ecotourism.
Sustainable Travel and Tourism
Sustainable living in today’s society is hard enough. Doing the same thing when traveling can be pretty difficult. The main goal for ecotourism when trying to travel sustainably is, being able to meet the needs of present generations without compromising the needs for future generations.
It all has to do with balance. Putting back as much, or more, as we use. Some examples of how to do this are, not overdeveloping on land that can not be restored, or extracting resources that can not be renewed easily. The balance here is recognizing that development and growth can be good, but as long as you do not get carried away. Do not endanger the local people by using too much land and resources, as well as destroying their jobs they need to survive.
Another issue that ecotourism faces is the carbon debate. Since travelling does contribute to the overall carbon emissions, many do not see travel’s impact as a reason to stop travelling all together. Certain airlines have taken measures to use more efficient fuel to help counteract their own carbon emissions, also. The most you can do is make sure you make the most out of your travels.
Being conservationally minded during your travel is extremely important. Conservation and sustainability very much go hand in hand. When you travel to a specific place as an ecotourist, your main goal besides sightseeing, should be to aid in conservation efforts of that area. This means keeping your impact on the environment to a minimum. Also, actually joining in on the efforts to repair the damage done by the rest of the world.
Conservation travel does exactly what it says on the box. Putting conservation before travel. Take Africa for example. The conservation work in Africa is at the heart of the experience, not just part of the itinerary. When travelling for conservation, you are fully immersed in the project you are joining. It is an intensive and sometimes challenging experience. Though the rewards and experience you gain are well worth it, as well as what you are giving back to the people.
When you work alongside a community, you are not only giving something that is precious and much needed, you are also gaining an experience you will never forget. Ecotourists that work cooperatively with the community create tourism benefits that work for everyone involved. When you leave, the community will want to promote tourism to their area because of the good you helped achieve. Working with the communities that surround you will also contribute to the education to both yourself and the local people. You will leave with a new respect for those people and maybe even incorporate some of what you learned from the people in your own life.
Negative Effects of Tourism
- There are 1 billion tourist arrivals in the world every year. Tourism often puts pressure on the natural resources through over consumption, often in areas where resources are already scarce.
- An average golf course in a tropical country uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers. It also uses 1500 kilos of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides per year. Thus, heavily contributing to land and water pollution.
- Tourism also puts a lot of stress on the local land use. This usually leads to soil erosion, more pollution, habitat loss, and further endangerment of animal species.
- Tourism contributes to more than 5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounting for 90% of it.
Advantages of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is here to help repair the damage done by the rest of the world. Those who exercise ecotourism, help with conservation efforts, education on both sides, community outreach and so much more.
Benefits to Local Communities
Most local communities manage these ecotourism destinations. Community members are involved at all stages of the process, empowering them while encouraging travelers to their destinations. These projects also create jobs for the local people, reducing the need for young people to leave their home to find work in the big cities. In fact, almost everyone in the community can be involved by working as guides, selling crafts, food and accommodation, or performing in cultural events. Ecotourism has also brought a better standard of living to the areas that have become big destinations. This has been done through the improvement of facilities such as clinics, increased fresh water, new roads and electricity. It helps that small-scale ecotourism projects are fairly cheap to set up. The amount of volunteer work also helps to keep prices low.
Ecotourism helps to provide a better appreciation of the world’s natural resources like landscapes, wildlife and marine environments. This appreciation leads to a desire to protect the environments through the creation of natural parks, wildlife preserves, and marine parks. Funding for conservation work is brought in by the tourists themselves, by entrance fees, camping fees, local taxes, and tours. Ecotourism can also help in the fight to protect ecosystems of developing countries. Ecotourists and the people who help set up destinations, as well as other organizations, also lend financial aid to help conserve the ecosystems.
Ecotourism not only educates visitors about environmental responsibility, it can also raise awareness about political and social issues of the countries. The money that ecotourism brings in goes directly to the local communities, rather than to the government or big hotel chains. Additionally, the tourists are able to witness, first hand, the poverty and repression that many third world countries suffer. It creates a want to act on human rights issues instead of sweeping them under the rug.
Ecotourists have a lot of interaction with the native people. Compared to regular tourists there is no competition. Visitors are able to experience the local lifestyle through home stays and ecolodges. Here they can be a part of the lives and culture first hand. This experience drives an increase in interest of the culture and a want to preserve the heritage.
- El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa- This ecolodge in Taos, New Mexico is an adobe-style resort at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It features globally themed suites, or casitas, that blend into the surroundings. It’s main attraction is the Living Machine. It is a greenhouse-like system in which plants, fish and other organisms treat water for resuse. Most of the resort is powered by solar panels and they use geothermal energy for heating and cooling. The water from the Living Machine is sent to the city of Taos. The resort also practices composting, recycling, and rainwater collection. The owner also started a school for local education.
- Clayoquot Wilderness Resort- This ecoresort in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia is accessible by either boat or float plane. It is only available in the summer months, it offers accommodations in the form of canvas tents in the rainforest along the Bedwell river. It uses wind and solar energy for power. The resort also started the Raptor rehabilitation project and does bear mapping, as well as helps to restore the salmon-spawning habitat.
- Danzante Eco-Resort- This remote ecolodge in Baja California Sur, Mexico, is located unobtrusively on ten acres of volcanic hills, which overlooks the Sea of Cortes. They offer hiking with local guides, horseback riding, and a white sand beach. The entire resort is 100% solar powered and practices graywater reuse, and an organic garden. The lodge employs local villagers to teach about medicinal herbs, be tourist guides and educate people on the sea and animal life. They also provide no-interest loans for the families in the area to develop solar panel homes.
- Hotelito Descondocido- Also called the Unknown Hotel, this hotel lies 60 miles south of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco. It is right in between the Sierra Madra Mountains and the Pacific ocean. It is perfect for bird watching, windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, and mountain biking. This hotel is also solar powered and has a “bio-digester” sewage system. THey also use biodegradable cleaning products and in-room amenities. The owners actively promote the sea turtle conservation program and offer guests to join the staff biologists in helping sea turtle hatchlings scurry to the sea.
Other areas that are very popular for ecotourism are: Palau, which many recognize as one of the world’s best diving areas because of its more than 500 species of coral and 1,400 species of fish. Norwegian Fjords, for their wide variety of aviation species, and marine life including seals and porpoises. It is home to many small fishing villages where local traditions have survived for hundreds of years. Kerala, Inda, also called Gods’ Own Country. It is home to nearly a quarter of the country’s 10,000 plant species as well as hundreds of unique animals, including an endangered mountain goat, the Nilgiri Tahr. Tourists can also visit the Rajamala National Park and the Lake Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Plenty of people also enjoy campsites in Ontario.
Being a tourist is relaxing, but you probably will not make many memories sitting in your hotel. Being an ecotourist is a great way to make lifelong memories as well as make a positive impact on the lives of many local communities and the environment. Now that you've read this, maybe next time you are on an Alberta river rafting trip you will keep this in mind. Incorporate the principles into your travels and travel in an ecological way.