Why Ecotourism is Important

These days, everyone and anyone can label themselves or their tourism project / idea / tour operator as “Ecotourism”.  It’s usually a marketing ploy to attract more business - everyone feels good if they can consider themselves to be travelling responsibly.

When I ask people “what is ecotourism?” or “what’s the definition of ecotourism?” the responses normally centre around descriptions on tourism based on nature / natural parks and a few people will mention conservation.  Yes these are true, but ecotourism is a far more complex concept than this……

Ecotourism essentially is a mix of inter-linked concepts that all depend on eachother in the hope of achieving a type of tourism that is sustainable in the long term.  The three key concepts are the environment, the local population and education.

Ecotourism is indeed normally (though not necessarily) a type of tourism based on nature (eg. rainforests or other environmentally threatened ecosystems).  The idea of ecotourism is that that environment should not be damaged by the presence of tourists who visit to experience it.  In fact, an ecotourism projects goal should be that the mere presence of tourists actively contribute towards the local conservation issues.  Ideally, more tourists (up to a certain threshold) should mean more benefits / conservation / contributary funds towards the environment.

To achieve positive impacts upon the local environment in which tourists are enjoying themselves, the local population have got to be actively involved.  Their vision is inherently more long-term than that of the visitors, and the local population will need to see tourism as an alternative source of income to their traditional practices.  With significant economic benefits provided by a small scale tourism industry a local population can come to see their natural surroundings as a source of income, but only if they conserve their local environment.  A local population needs a specific incentive to preserve it’s environment, rather than the western world telling them not to chop down all their rainforests because it contributes towards global warming.  The best incentive is invariably money - ecotourism is normally found in communities that are often very poor.  The role of the local population is intrinsic to any form of sustainable tourism / ecotourism, and they should have active control of matters concerning tourism in their locality.  The locals should be in control, managing the project in a democratic fashion if it is to be truely sustainable in the log term.  Control is crucial.

A means to these ends is education - of the local population as a whole, explaining why it’s important (and economically beneficial) to conserve their environment.  Local tourists should also be educated as to why local ecotourism is important and should leave their travel destination with a greater understanding of conservation issues.

Ecotourism is important, otherwise we’ll wreck the world we love to explore, and travel experiences of future generations won’t live up to our own experiences.  Ecotourism is also important ethically - many people who travel often spend a small fortune on their holidays, but little of that mone yis actually seen by local people who actually need it.  I sleep much better at night in a small community run cabana in the rainforest than in a luxury hotel owned by the Hilton Group, because I know that the money I’m spending is going towards those that really need it.

I’ve never truely understod the mindset of someone who would choose to stay at a Hilton hotel or similar chain.  For starters, they’re almost always tasteless and have no local cultural input whatsoever.  And why would anyone want to give their money to Paris Hilton? Surely she has enough already?  Why not book a locally owned hotel?

Here’s some tips for more responsible travel:

1. Do ecotourism - get off the beaten track. Be adventurous.

2. Book locally owned hotels, not chain hotels.

3. Respect the local culture you’re visiting.

4. Fly with local airlines rather than your own national carrier.  Flying ot Brazil? Book the flight with Varig, or Tam rather than British Airways / American Airlines etc… You’re contributing to the local economy by doing so.

5. Offset your carbon emissions on your flights.

Some people rant along the lines of travel being inherently bad for the environment, and all travel is as such.  True, flying isn’t good for the environement, but once you arrive at your holiday destination, if you practice responsible travel, the damages you’ve done by arriving can be outweighed.  Travelling can and should ideally benefit the environment, it just needs to be done responsibly.

See the directory of genuine ecotourism projects and ecolodges in Latin America and travel responsibly.

5 Responses to “Why Ecotourism is Important”

  1. <p><p>Great write up there - we all need to be more responsible when travelling.</p></p>

  2. Thank you for the write up on ecoturism. As a local ecolodge owner I have been toiling for the last 17 years trying to do precisely what you describe above, that is provide a meaningful, natural and social experience to visitors while supoorting the local community, sustaining the environment and ocassionally making a buck. I’ve found that perhaps only 50% of all visitors are genuinely inerested in the environment and social-economic issues which affect us and only some 20 are actually willing to spend money on ecotours.
    Your “why ecotourism is important philophy” become very important to us as we sincerely hope more people will appreciate what we are really doing here. Not just selling cheap beer and funky rooms. so thak you for your observations they are quite “a propos”.

  3. i moved to the honduras over 2 yrs ago after falling in love with the country and started a small eco lodge in a poor area not only for it’s beauty and isolation but with the hope of helping others. since then i have employed local artistians to decorate the lodge in turn supporting an entire village with trying to help the sell there crafts to all the tourists. and also hiring local craftsmen in building the resort and other projects i began. also working with the locals in how to deal with the tourists visiting our nat. parks and several hiking trails and with a snorkling tour…. keep up the good work in saving the planet….tranquilitybay beach retreat

  4. BigTravelWeb Admin (Chris) on November 24th, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Times will change…. I read (in 2004) that is ecotourism is one of the fasting growing sectors of the tourism industry - quite what is defined as ecotourism is a different matter though. What is certain though is that the concept of “pure ecotourism” can only increase in importance and abundancy as people come to understand it, promote it and participate in it.

  5. Very few of our visitors to Amazonat Jungle Lodge ask about our ecotourism practices, something we take very seriously. Many assume that because we are in the middle of the jungle and a small operation that we must be ecologically friendly. This is not the case with all lodges. Some locally run accommodations have little regard for the environment - untreated water is released to the environment, generators are run constantly and guides have little regard for nature when they do their tours. Visitors are usually ignorant of all of this - they are just happy to have seen more animals up close (with little thought to the stress caused), enjoyed their toilets and air conditioned rooms . Small and locally owned is not a guarantee of ecological practices. In contrast, large chain hotels are often very consious of theirs. The best practice is for consumers to be as informed as possible and to ask lodges what their ecological practices are before choosing one. While they are visiting they should talk to the lodge owner or operator if ecological practices have not been followed. As responsible tourists it is part of our responsibility to ensure ecolodges are living up to their promise. I often cringe when I go to the Caribbean and take a snorkeling tour. The boat takes us to a beautiful location and throws the anchor overboard with little regard for the coral being broken below. With more and more visits the coral won’t survive. Nothing will change the boat operator’s practices faster than to have many of his clients complaining and potential clients asking how he runs his operation. We all need to play our part in maintaining the environment.

Leave a Comment or Travel Tip (all comments are moderated)