What Is Sustainable Tourism and 3 Noteworthy Examples

If you were asked to think of the fastest growing industries in the world today, tourism would definitely be in your top. As a major source of money for many countries, tourism creates jobs and revitalizes local economies. But is this people-oriented industry gentle on Mother Nature? Not quite. This is where sustainable tourism enters the stage.

Like any other form of development, tourism causes its share of problems. Organizations around the world are trying to fight the indirect effects of mass tourism, including loss of cultural heritage, social dislocation, economic dependence and – most unfortunately – ecological degradation. Meanwhile, people learn more and more about the impacts of tourism, which prompts them to seek more responsible and “green” holidays.

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There are several forms of sustainable – also known as alternative – tourism. They include ecotourism, nature-based tourism, and cultural tourism. And because sustainable tourism is becoming so popular, some optimists believe that what we call today ‘alternative’ traveling will soon become the ‘mainstream’. In less than a decade, people will actively seek to minimize their carbon footprint on vacation.

Whether sustainable or not, tourism has both positive and negative impacts. The aim of alternative tourism is to maximize benefits and minimize negative environmental and social impacts. Benefits include new infrastructure, foreign exchange profits and job creation. One of the most important aspects, however, is safeguarding living culture and artistic heritage. Let’s take a deeper look at the impact of ecotourism.

What Is Sustainable Tourism?

Tourism activities, whatever the motivation – business travel, holidays, adventure travel or ecotourism – should be sustainable. One way to define ecotourism is tourist activities and travels that respect both the locals and the adventurer, the environment and the cultural heritage. Sustainable touring should provide people with an exciting holiday that doesn’t negatively impact the population and the nature in the host country.

Thankfully, more holidaymakers and holidaygoers are aware of the problems of mass tourism. Therefore, both parties seek to design greener and more responsible experiences. To avoid confusion, ecotourism is a term generally used to describe holidays or recreations in natural surroundings. Even though ecotourism is a subclass of sustainable tourism, it can also substitute it, in many instances.

Ecotourism & Economic Impacts

Ecotourism is a subcategory of tourism, a form of traveling to pristine natural areas. The main purposes are learning more about the destination and not destroying the natural habitats in the meantime. Ecotourism also focuses on reducing the effects on the area visited. To become a sustainable destination, a location must contribute to the conservation of the natural spaces while promoting the sustainable development of local communities.

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Even though ecotourism is relatively new, it has already spread quickly throughout the world. People have already established which the most popular ecotourism destinations are. Spread fairly evenly throughout the world, they include location in Central and South America, Canada and the U.S., as well as Australia and even Antarctica.

Africa is another important country for sustainable tourism. For instance, tourism is one of the most essential industries in Kenya, assisting the country’s GDP with almost 25 percent. A substantial part of it is the wildlife tourism in Kenya’s various National Parks and Reserves, which see millions of visitors each year.

Around 70 percent of Kenya’s tourism profits come from wildlife tourism. According to a study of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, each lion in the reservation was worth $27,000 in tourist revenue annually. Meanwhile, an elephant herd valued as much as $610,000.

Being an Enlightened Traveler

Should tourism have negative effects on the environment of host nations? Of course not. Can travelers support the historical, cultural and environmental tradition of an area? Of course they can. One of the main requirements is for tourists to adopt sustainable approaches, supporting rather than damaging host heritages and environments. Here are some of the most famous sustainable destinations around the globe.

1. Patagonia

Over thousands of years, relentless geological powers have shaped Patagonia. Rising from the South Atlantic shores, desolate plains invite visitors to get closer to the mountain range where thicker vegetation and conifer trees joins the basalt lava. The barren but beautiful expanses offer outstanding landscapes, beautiful rivers, jagged peaks, and massive glaciers. The predominant feeling is the sense of being at the edge of the world.

Patagonia is paradise for ecotourism and adventure tourism. Travelers can see seals, whales, and penguins in Peninsula Valdés, and look at the world’s smallest dolphins. Bariloche, South America’s most popular ski-center, lays amid lakes, forests, and majestic mountains. You can see the petrified forests, ride horseback across endless landscapes, or sleepover in traditional wooden cabins. It will certainly not be your usual holiday.

2. Machu Picchu

Awe-inspiring, sensational, faraway, mystical. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the beauty Machu Picchu, one of the most accessed destinations in Latin America. It proudly sits 2,430 m above sea level, looking over the sacred valley of the Urubamba River. You can visit the Machu Picchu as part of an adventure tourism footpath on the Inca Trail. The Peruvian government has awarded the site with the Historical Sanctuary status. In 1983, UNESCO has also declared it a World Heritage location.

3. Iguazu Falls

Iguazú translates as “great waters” in the native language of the people inhabiting the area before Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca. Situated about 20 km from the Argentine city of Puerto Iguazú, the majestic Falls thunder down across the frontiers of Argentina and Brazil. An important ecotourism attraction, it is a magnificent sight to behold. The 275 waterfalls Mother Nature has arranged in a natural horseshoe formation attracts thousands of nature-loving tourists.

The falls and the surrounding ecosystem is protected by the National Park classification on both sides of the border. The region is also part of the World Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (since 1984 and 1986). Visitors can travel through the Park with a train that has minimum impact on the environment. It operates only at 20km/hour to cause minimal disturbance among animals, and it runs on LPG to avoid pollution.

Header Image: pata.org

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David Knoch

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