If you are an ecotourism enthusiast, you must have noticed a radical shift in both government and corporate approaches in how they generate revenue from the tourism sector. Gone are the days when all the focus was on bringing in the tourists and ripping to the fullest without giving back to the planet. Now, companies are held accountable for the impact their operations have on the ecosystem.
With a fragile ecosystem at hand, a small imbalance can have massive ripple effects on the world at large. Typical examples are global warming and plastic pollution of the oceans. Hence the new approach to tourism called eco-tourism and sustainable tourism.
In this article, I will define in detail what eco-tourism and sustainable tourism are all about. We will review its origin. And evaluate how governments, corporates, and individuals are embracing it in the 21st century.
I would define ecotourism as the responsible travel to places that conserve our natural environment and consequently improve the local people’s well-being. How often do you do that?
The core principles of ecotourism and sustainable tourism revolve around the travel industry adopting environmentally friendly practices. It also entails protecting the natural and cultural heritage of a destination. And supporting local communities. Similarly, the income generated through ecotourism remains in that destination. This differs from mass tourism where most of the money made goes to large transnational companies.
Therefore, a typical eco-tourist would visit the Smoky Mountains, a National Park in North Carolina. Use a local tour guide to navigate his way around the park. Hire a tent and pay for a few extras like a bush barbeque or a belly dance. He will also participate in a lesson with the local community kids the next day. And possibly donate to the local children’s home.
A nature-based tourist, on the other hand, will travel to the same place using his own guide. He will have no particular interest in eco-friendly accommodation. He will also not engage the local community whatsoever unless for his own benefit.
In A Nut Shell: Eco-Tourism versus Sustainable Tourism
Sustainable tourism focuses on prioritizing local traditions, natural resources, and residents. However, eco-tourism is a subtype of sustainable tourism with a clear focus on rural and wilderness areas.
A Little History
Ecotourism traces its roots to 1901 with the launch of the Sierra Club’s Outing Program. It was an initiative to take hikers to Spain’s Sierra Nevada’s mountains. The aim was getting the hikers actively involved in the preservation of the forests.
Fast forward to the 70’s and 80’s when the most influential Mexican NGO doing conservation work was founded. Still in the 80’s, Megan Epler Wood, filmed a documentary called “The Environmental Tourist”. She was a young wildlife biologist working for World Wildlife Fund. This was the first film to shed light on how tourism could contribute to the conservation of natural resources and local well-being.
Afterwards, there have been other countless ecotourism icons including:
- Thomas Lovejoy, also known as the godfather of biodiversity
- Russell Mittermeier, currently the president of Conservation International
- And Jeff Greenwald, the founder of Ethical Traveller
These sustainable tourism pioneers undertook many initiatives including animal welfare, carbon offsets, travel philanthropy, and rising concerns about human trafficking and child sexual abuse.
How Are We Embracing Sustainable Tourism?
We can promote sustainable tourism and ecotourism in four ways:
Governments implementing legislation:
The UK’s Environmental Protection Act 1990, for example, sets out fundamental structures for waste management and control of emissions to the environment. Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 provides a legal framework that conserves Australia’s biodiversity. This is achieved by controlling the international movement of wildlife.
Such acts streamline environmental assessment. They also protect the world and national heritage. And promote ecologically sustainable developments. If you’re a leader, explain the importance of adhering to such acts in your area of jurisdiction.
Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives:
Lego’s Build the Change and Sustainable Materials Center is an initiative that partners with World Wildlife Fund to push for sustainability. Several Peace for Conservation movements focus on tackling human-wildlife conflict. They engage and connect with local communities to raise awareness and promote ownership and action. They also undertake various ecotourism fun activities for youth. This gives the youth a platform to have their voice heard, therefore, supporting the next generation of conservationists. Are you a member of any of these movements?
Individuals Conservation Campaigns:
Take part in the Green Belt Movement by planting two trees where one is cut. If you’re too shy to walk around with a watering can and shovels, join a local tree planting initiative near you. Other than making an impact on our environment, you will interact with like-minded people and learn new things.
The government is continually sensitizing people and making them aware of the issues surrounding different environments. However, I believe responsibility is a personal choice that we make. Corporates too have developed conservation education programs for local schools. They provide naturalists, interpretative guides, and guest lecturers to assist travelers in understanding their travel experiences better. As a tourist, you can educate yourself about the vital eco-systems of the destinations you are visiting through guidebooks and travel articles.
- Traveler Responsibility
As a traveler, I have embarked on responsible traveling. I choose a travel agent based on their eco principles and practices. By following a vegan lifestyle, I also desist from poaching. I also take into consideration the reduction of carbon footprint when using air travel, bringing back valuable gifts like clothing and distributing them through the local elders and not directly to vulnerable children who may develop the habit of begging.
During my stay, I conserve limited natural resources and support organizations and societies that follow eco-principles. These are things you could also start practicing. If all the tourists in the world would do the same, the world would be a better place for both humans and animals. Don’t you think so?
- Active Community Participation
Through community-based tourism, locals open up their homes and communities to visitors seeking sustainably achieved cultural, educational, recreational travel experiences.
Community participation may take different forms including:
- Reducing encroachment of human activities to protected natural wildlife habitats
- Training the locals to open up businesses that fuel their local economic development
- At the same time, minimizing adverse impacts on flora and fauna (eco-friendly lodges, souvenir shops, and guides)
- Reporting any illegal extraction of resources or poaching activities to the local authorities
It is no longer business as usual. Natural and cultural resources are the current drivers of international tourism. Companies falling short of the ‘ecoresort’ tag risk losing profitability. On the other hand, governments planning for ecotourism will require greater coordination between natural resource stakeholders and the service delivery arms of the tourism industry. It is only through such continued initiatives that the world will win against the race in preserving our endangered wildlife. What are you doing to drive sustainable tourism in your locality?