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Ecotourism: What on Earth Is It?

Words and Photography by Jessie Kollen
Ecotourism: What on Earth Is It?

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‘Ecotourism’ is a wonderful term, full of promise. But it’s also the kind of handy terminology that’s open to interpretation and therefore misuse.

Ecotourism can simply mean visiting a place where the nature — or ecology — is the main attraction. Ecotourism involves travel to natural habitats, places where the land and wildlife are the reason for visiting and may be in need of preservation.

Then there’s ‘sustainable’ tourism. Sustainable tourism has tourists aiming to make a smaller impact on the place they are visiting. This means respect for the local culture as well choosing businesses that have sustainable practices.

Ecotourism involves travel to natural habitats, places where the land and wildlife are the reason for visiting and may be in need of preservation.

Ecotourism and sustainable tourism are ethically similar, and shouldn’t be confused with adventure tourism, as tour packages that take visitors to national parks or reserves may not necessarily be operated by companies that are actively preserving or supporting the location.

In countries like Australia, Sweden, Costa Rica and Kenya, ecotourism guidelines have been put in place, but elsewhere the classification is loose and tourism businesses can make use of the term without committing to the environment.

We can all be ecotourists or sustainable tourists — or both. By answering the following questions we can take the first steps towards a more conscience-clear holiday.

 

Where in the world?

Ecotravellers, it’s time to get out our sturdiest shoes and our most comfortable day pack, because we’re headed into the wild. Eco tours are specific packages designed to take visitors to waterways teeming with fish and wildlife, ocean diving, or to animal reserves. Although luxury eco-resorts do exist, often accommodation involves camping, or basic huts.

Whether heading out on an eco journey or taking a sustainable approach to a holiday, we recommend seeking out accommodation where sustainable practices are shared on their website or brochure, stating exactly what that business is doing to support the local environment, and how. Transparency is important to ensure that a business’ profit isn’t at the expense of the environment.

 

Who’s making the money?

Whether we’re on a guided hike (wishing we had an 80s-style terry-cloth headband for the sweat dripping off our brow as we scale a mountain in the midday sun), or we’re lying blissed out by the hotel pool, the sustainable and ecotraveller might ask themselves, who’s making the money?

A legitimate ecotourism destination respects and supports the indigenous people of the area. Those of us who dream of an adventure in the Galapagos or taking wildlife photographs in misty jungle locations should look for an eco tour with a genuine operator so our tourist dollar goes towards the local community and conservation of the surrounding environment.

Close up of a sitting panda
A success story: the giant panda is officially no longer endangered due to conservation efforts.

 

Who’s hungry?

Just because we’re on holiday — drinking cocktails at midday on a Tuesday or devouring a seafood banquet that would make Neptune tremble — doesn’t mean we stop caring what happens to the empty bottles after our cocktail has been poured, and whether our seafood dinner has been fished using sustainable practices.

Providing hungry travellers with magnificent meals is a key focus for hotels and resorts. Checking the source of their ingredients may be an eye-opener for the eco or sustainable traveller. A search on sites such as Good Fish Guide will reveal whether the fish we’re planning on eating has been sourced from renewable stocks.

 

Fun for everyone.

Holidays are supposed to be an escape from the responsibilities of work and home, but these days we don’t want our fun to be at the cost of the environment and the community we are visiting. We can find holiday packages that support the local community and its environment, or we can take a sustainable approach, with special attention to supporting tourism businesses that take into account their impact on the environment. If we’re not the ones taking out the recycling at our holiday destination, then who is?

Published on September 6, 2016
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