Definition of Ecotourism

What Is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism is a form of tourism whereby the travelers place large emphasize on traveling to uniquely protected and fragile areas with a main concern to learning or protecting the local environment and community. Called by alternate names, such as ecological tourism, sustainable tourism, green tourism, and ecotravel, ecotourism is a relatively new concept in travel and one that is somewhat in dispute. Sometimes confused with adventure travel, ecotourism in its purest form is characterized by low impact tourism where travelers learn about the local ecology and how to preserve it, all the while benefiting the local community and economy.

The basic features of ecotourism include things like minimizing negative environmental impacts, contributing to local conservation, keeping profits within the local community, providing environmental education, working with local communities to manage natural areas, and so on.

Adventure travel, on the other hand, is concerned with the exploration of the natural world. While humans need regular contact with nature and wild encounters often benefit ecosystems by inadvertently educating vacationers about the needs of local systems, adventure travel is not concerned with directly improving or protecting the environment. It should therefore be considered a completely distinct form of travel when compared to ecotourism. Experiences that may fall into adventure travel but not into the category of ecotourism could include:

  • Backpacking, camping, hiking, surfing, rafting, diving, snorkeling, biking, mountain climbing, cave exploration, or a walk in the woods without an educational component
  • Energy, resource, and water-intensive cruise ship experiences to view icebergs and penguins in Antarctica
  • Staying in a resort in the Amazon rainforest that has made no efforts to reduce their planetary footprint

Many would-be green tourism businesses try to sell themselves as eco-friendly by talking up natural encounters but failing to really improve the local environment. This greenwashing is both misleading and destructive.

Ecotourism travel can include a wide variety of environment-enhancing programs and policies, including:

  • Educational, low-impact tours
  • Practicing “Leave No Trace” camping principles
  • Encouraging
  • Green building principles employed within the lodging destination, such as renewable energy systems, rainwater catchments, grey water recycling, low-flow toilets and showerheads, use of recycled products, composting organic waste, composting toilets, local, organic menus, passive solar designs, and so on
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