Imagine yourself trekking through the Amazon with your eyes peeled for signs of exotic wildlife. Or maybe you're hiking up a mountain and taking in the breathtaking views. Earth's natural wonders offer infinite possibilities to travelers. Seeing these marvelous places is one aspect of ecotourism, but ecotourism involves much more than enjoying nature's beauty. Here are some things you should know about this responsible form of travel.
Photo by Flickr/Jeremy Michael
What Is Ecotourism
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as, "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." A host of principles and actions fall under the umbrella of that definition. Some of the principles involve increasing environmental and cultural awareness, financially helping conservation efforts and minimizing the environmental impact of travel.
What It Involves
There are three keys to successful ecotourism:
Responsible travel is a broad idea, and the ways to apply it are endless. Paying the entrance fees for parks and hiring travel guides helps sustain local areas and the people who care for them. You can choose to search for public transportation options instead of renting a car. Pick up trash when you see it on the ground. If you have a choice between staying at a hotel or at a campsite, opt for the campsite.
When you think of helping conserve the environment, you might first think of the world's untamed areas, but you can act as an ecotourist even if you're traveling to a metropolis. City parks do more than provide a place for residents to get some fresh air and throw bread crumbs at birds. Such parks help sustain the area's ecosystem, so by obeying park rules and viewing the parks as natural refuges and not urban decorations, you're embracing the spirit of ecotourism.
Promoting the Welfare of Local People
One aspect of what makes ecotourism special is that it takes into account not only plants and animals but people, as well. Goodnature.nathab.com points out, "Local people are the key stakeholders in ecotourism areas… For ecotourism to work, it must benefit the key stakeholders for they will be the long-term conservationists of the forests, savannas, or coral reefs. The loggers will become re-foresters, the hunters will become wildlife guides, and the fishermen will become dive guides."
Hence, by connecting with local people and supporting their ecotourism-related businesses, you contribute to the long-term wellness of natural beauty.
Photo by Flickr/Pedro Szekely
The history of ecotourism stretches back centuries, even though the word itself is only a few decades old. Think of Charles Darwin, who traveled to the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s so he could learn more about nature. Not long after that, Alfred Russel Wallace embarked on a scientific adventure in the Amazon River basin.
From these historical examples, it's easy to see that ecotourism is about more than letting nature captivate the senses. It's about learning and appreciating the splendors of the planet.
Most modern travelers recognize how important ecotourism is. In fact, about 75 percent of travelers want to take vacations that are more eco-responsible.
How It Helps
Can embracing ecotourism really help the planet? After all, most families only take one or two vacations every year. Yes, ecotourism does help. The United Nations Environment Programme brings up some of the negative environmental impacts of tourism, which include draining natural resources, polluting the air and water, and even polluting an area's aesthetics because of a growing demand for over-the-top resorts.
By taking vacations that focus more on nature's beauty than on wasteful luxuries, tourists shake hands with the planet rather than pummel it. For example, you might want to bring several bottles of water with you when you go for that day hike. If you bring reusable bottles instead of disposable plastic ones, you reduce landfill waste and set a good example for other travelers. If enough people take environmentally responsible action, it can affect the mentality of the entire tourism industry.
The world has more natural wonders in it than anyone could explore in a lifetime, but that shouldn't stop you from seeing all you can. Be an eco-tourist and help out the planet while you explore its stunning beauty.
Miles Young is a freelance writer, designer and outdoorsman. He’s worked as a roof contractor and part-time engine mechanic. He spends his free time fishing and tinkering in his garage. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.