Today’s blog is for all of our environmentalists experiencing some wanderlust out there! Have you heard of Ecotourism? Ecotourism is a form of sustainable travel that supports the local environment instead of putting more pressure on it and exploiting its resources. This travel concept, which became popular in the 1980s, caters to earth-conscious people who want to travel to natural locations instead of the built up tourist areas that are often culprit to mass pollution and ecological harm. The idea is to find the best ways to see the world in a way that allows you to appreciate nature and local culture, promote conservation, and beneficially stimulate the economy of the city you are in. Ecotourism is becoming more and more possible now thanks to cheap airfare options to many of these destinations. Folks are feeling more and more drawn to these types of educational experiences, and are comforted by the fact that ecotourism may help protect sensitive environment locations and raise awareness on local environmental and social delicate issues.
However, as you might imagine, not all ecotourism trips are alike, and as we’ve seen time and time again, what we do in the name of eco-friendly alternatives can sometimes be ironically harmful. Folks often leave behind trash, pour money into non-local pockets, cause damage to the local wildlife by forging new paths in the terrain and affecting soil, or even creating harmful codependencies between the animals and humans by feeding and provoking them. Some visits are done in sensitive periods like during breeding or hatching periods. Other times these ecotourism destinations become too popular and there are off-site impacts such as clearing lands to build infrastructures. These activities sometimes displace indigenous and local people from their homes and prevents its members from benefiting from the economic growth. In many parts of Africa for example, large-scale tourism led to the improper disposal of campsite sewage. The nearest river where wildlife and people gather their drinking water was then contaminated and caused endless destruction to the health and safety of everyone. This is just one example of the harm that happens when we aren’t intentional about these efforts!
So, if you’re wanting to practice ecotourism, how can you ensure that you’re doing it right?
Do your research. Be wary of the green washing that often happens with travel agencies and other tourism companies. Ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry, so tour operators are eager to lure clients using eco-advertising. Evaluate the impacts of where and when you’re planning to travel. How might it effect the local environment? When a tour company says they donate to conservation efforts, what is the actual percentage? To whom does it go to?
Genuine ecotourism programs will adhere to the following standards:
- Commitment to protecting ecosystems’ biodiversity
- Support for the basic rights of local communities while contributing to their economies
- Respect for local cultures and a commitment to educate tourists on those cultures
To help your search, look into member programs of the International Ecotourism Society (TIES).
Keep it small. Ecotourism is best done in small or medium groups, otherwise it defeats the point a bit! Focus on a strong educational component. Choose smaller countries, and places that aren’t already becoming over populated with tourists.
Limit your travel overall. Getting out and seeing the world is wonderful for our worldview and our photo albums. However, knowing the harm that flying and traveling far distances can have, try to limit your international excursions if you can! If you’re getting the itch to travel outside of your home, staying stateside or even embracing a staycation can be a great way to make new memories and relax with a very little environmental impact.
Living an eco-conscious life is not about doing anything perfectly, but about doing everything with intention. Taking these points into consideration can help you travel worry-free and find ways to minimize harm. Every little lifestyle choice makes a difference. Here’s to wishing for more adventures in the new year!