Ecotourism is a subcategory of the tourism industry that relies on a location’s natural qualities rather than manufactured attractions. These sites have beautiful scenery, rich biodiversity and remarkable history. The industry’s primary goal is to preserve these environments so humanity can appreciate them for generations to come. However, it might hurt more than it helps.
Ecotourism Is growing
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited long-distance travel and thus greatly affected the tourism industry, but ecotourism is still growing steadily. Countries emphasize more sustainable living, and the sector should get a nice boost in the years to come.
We’ve seen ecotourism take on several different forms in the last few decades as it has grown, and each one teaches sustainability in its own way. Here are the main types:
- Agrotourism: Visitors go to rural communities to learn about the local peoples’ way of life through volunteering and thus help the community’s economic development.
- Eco-lodging: Tourists stay in hotels that rely on passive energy from the environment as much as possible.
- Eco-trekking: Visitors travel through an environment and learn about the obstacles it faces, both natural and artificial. They also receive important lessons in preservation.
- Community development: Travelers temporarily live in a developing country to learn the peoples’ way of life and how they’ve adapted to their environment.
Each type of ecotourism contributes to the end goal of sustainable living by informing travelers about the obstacles facing our environments and what we can do to overcome them. Education is an essential step in creating a more eco-friendly world.
Ecotourism’s mixed impact on sustainable initiatives
Informing the public is an admirable goal, but this information only helps preserve natural ecosystems and protect local inhabitants to a limited degree. There are positive and negative effects on sustainability initiatives as ecotourism becomes more popular.
The industry raises environmental awareness and generates great economic growth for the surrounding communities. Many ecotourism sites are located in remote, impoverished areas like Central America and Southeast Asia. These areas get more funding from visitors and donations from other countries that want to support struggling inhabitants.
Sites in more developed countries can make for amazing vacation destinations that raise awareness of environmental challenges within visitors’ own borders.
Ecotourism’s economic benefits far outweigh other parts of the industry. Regular tourism usually sends a fraction of its revenue back into the local economy, while ecotourism keeps as much income within the community as possible. This revenue allows people to invest in more resources, which helps preserve their culture and environment.
However, the more ecotourism grows, the more traffic these precious ecosystems endure. This means more vehicle pollution, increased buildings, additional waste and a more harmful human footprint.
Corporations can flock to the popular locations and change the entire structure of the local economy with hotels, gift shops and other profit sources, which cuts into the inhabitants’ revenue. Additionally, businesses can easily market a scenic location as “ecotourism,” but the attraction lacks sustainability lessons or doesn’t give a dime to the local community. This shady practice is known as greenwashing.
A community’s culture and traditions may change as a result. The wildlife has to adapt or leave. People lose land and wages to greedy corporations, which forces them to look for other work. Too much ecotourism can uproot an area and damage the environment beyond repair.
Keys to responsible ecotourism
Ecotourism only benefits sustainable initiatives when practiced in moderation and with good intentions. People that want to be responsible eco-tourists must know which locations are worth supporting. Attractions that are members of the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) usually have strong track records. Look for places that do the following:
- Protect local biodiversity
- Support communities with funding, resources and labor
- Educate visitors on the culture’s way of life
Before you arrive at your location, research the area’s eco-friendly policies and practices so you can take all possible steps to reduce your footprint. You should also do some background research on the site to better understand the environment once you arrive.
Ecotourism is still beneficial
The chance that the industry spirals out of control and falls into the hands of greedy business people becomes more likely as ecotourism continues to grow. However, it’s still highly beneficial to many communities worldwide in its current state. As long as tourists continue to take their lessons to heart and live sustainably in their own countries, ecotourism will remain a worthwhile investment for travelers and residents alike.