What is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism is a growing aspect of tourism that is more focused on protecting the environment and keeping it as natural as possible without necessarily disturbing or damaging habitats. Ecotourism is also sometimes referred to as sustainable tourism. It thus borrows heavily from the principles of minimizing social, physical, psychological, and behavioral impacts.

In other words, ecotourism entails the responsible travel to natural areas, conserving the environment, as well as sustaining the well-being of the local people through education and interpretation of local social, environmental, and political matters.

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We are excited to offer another outdoor avenue for the exploration and appreciation of local ecology. This new trail will enhance ecotourism and serve to educate visitors about the necessity of protecting the environment.

~ Mary Henderson

According to how it has been embraced in modern times, ecotourism takes place when travelers, visitors, and the locals are socially responsible and emotionally care for the environment, nature, and cultures of the locations visited.

It usually aims to prevent aspects such as littering, interfering with the natural life of the flora and fauna, damaging the locations visited, and the worsening of the local people’s lives.

The objective of ecotourism, therefore, is to provide positive experiences for both the visitors and the hosts. However, ecotourism is still faced with numerous problems. In this article, we look at the problems facing ecotourism, the relationship between ecotourism and sustainable tourism, and some of the future trends in ecotourism.

Challenges Facing Ecotourism

1. Threats to Indigenous Cultures

An increase in the number of tourists can hamper the freedom of cultural expression within the natives, making some of them feel threatened.

Also, most of the natives are largely seen as prop tour guides, making them feel objectified, in addition to encouraging stereotypes. Also, a continuous interaction between the locals and the tourists may cause a gradual shift in culture.

2. Degradation of the Ecosystem May Still Occur

Ecotourism’s main aim is to preserve the environment, but unfortunately, it is often a challenge in itself. Ecotourism takes tourists to new places, and in some cases ecosystems that are relatively untouched by humans.

The interaction between the new environment and the tourists could disrupt it. For instance, the humans could scare off prey, disrupting a predator’s hunting patterns.

It could also result in a higher demand for resources such as food and water, stressing the environment to accommodate more people. Increased foot traffic according to USAToday has also been associated with the possibility of damage to plant life and soil quality.

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3. Travel Could Disrupt the Environment

To visit exotic places, people have to travel, either by air, cars, or boats. Such mediums generate huge amounts of pollution, affecting the local environment, particularly in the form of noise pollution, air pollution, and land pollution.

4. Possible Relocation of Locals as Ecotourism Inevitably Leads to Development

Ecotourism in a large scale means hotels will be built, especially when the visitation areas become a big part of the travel industry. When this happens, there will be expansions and sometimes, excavations might occur.

In such cases, the locals might be forced to move from their native lands. For instance, about 70% of all national parks and game reserves in East Africa, are on land that once belonged to the Maasai people.

The indigenous peoples were never compensated and the employment opportunities that have arisen as a result, favor elites instead of the native people.

5. Growing Number of Ecotourism Organizations Working For Profit

Ecotourism is growing each year, meaning there are more firms and organizations each year joining the ecotourism bandwagon in the name of promoting sustainable tourism.

Nonetheless, some of these organizations are only prioritizing on making profits over preserving the ecosystems they tour. Some have become negligent to the adherence of the eco-friendly policies, enticing more tourists to spend money on the organization’s services rather than on the tourist attraction sites.

Possible Solutions To Ecotourism

1. For Eco-travellers, Research More Before Engaging Ecotourism Agencies or Organizations

Before engaging an organization’s services, it is imperative to research if it adheres to preserving and improving the local culture, community, commerce and the conservation of the ecosystems.

At the end of it all, the goal of ecotourism is for the environment and the local community to benefit from both individual travelers and organizational operations.

If background checks reveal that an institution has prioritized profits over the protection and the long-term sustainability of the environment, they should be completely avoided.

2. Reduce Impacts on the Environment When Ecotourism Adventures

Travelers should consider taking non-stop flights to use less fuel and have fewer effects on the environment. Where possible, it is advisable to walk, trek or hike while on foot, or use public transport instead of renting cars.

Also, renting non-motorized boats and vehicles as much as possible is recommended. Great options can include riding on horses, camels or even elephants, thereby witnessing the wildlife, and at the same time reducing carbon footprints.

3. Eco-tourists and Travellers all Together Should Choose Organizations and Programs That Educate and Primarily Aim to Enhance the Environment

Before engaging any organization dedicated to ecotourism, it is advisable to learn more or do some background check about them. Also, before engaging in an ecotourism program, one needs to educate him or herself.

Ask critical questions such as, do such programs promote native customs and history? Are they educative? Is their focus on promoting environmental conservation?

In other words, it is advisable to choose programs that work with the native people and further educate you and them. Also, after choosing the program, be courteous of how you display your culture to the natives.

4. Be Part of the Solution

When touring new ecosystems, it is possible to disrupt their lives. As much as possible, avoid disrupting such life. Do not scare animals as it might interfere with their daily lives or interrupt the intentions of another on the same animal.

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In regard to the local people, do not disrupt their lives. Let them continue interacting with the ecosystem as they were doing before you got there. Remember, another person and even future generations will also want to visit the place after you. Let them find it better than you did.

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Future Trends in Ecotourism

1. Sustainable Accommodations

Ecotourism is geared towards sustainable development and in the same light, comes sustainable accommodation. Tourists are increasingly choosing sustainable accommodation so that they can help reduce the negative impacts on the environment.

It also favors better interactions with the local communities and brings about a better ecological choice altogether.

2. Women Empowerment

There are several initiatives being created to further empower women. Tourists, in turn, are finding it more inclusive and better to support local women they meet during their visits.

Societies are building on the global movements and are finding more ways to promote gender equity, as well as helping women reach their full potential, especially economically.

3. Boycotting Riding and Petting of Wild Animals

Riding or petting wild animals is a fun way to spend your time in the wild. However, there are reports and even videos of people neglecting or abusing the same animals.

Wild animals should not be confined away from their natural habitats and as such, petting them is being discouraged. More and more people are, therefore, embracing ways of boycotting and petting of wild animals as a way of not only protecting them but also to promote ecotourism.

4. Sustainable Volunteering is as Well Part of Future Ecotourism

Modern travelers tend to volunteer when on their trips to make the world a better place, a trend that is gradually being embraced by many eco-travelers.

Some of the things that travelers choose to volunteer in include activities and programs that make the world a better place. Examples include doctoral and nursing assistance, and teaching that empowers the people socially, culturally, behaviourally, and economically.

5. Green Accommodation

Travelers are increasingly choosing hotels and lodges that practice eco-friendly initiatives such as using biodegradable products, upscaling techniques, recycling, and re-use.

They are also choosing local bed-and-breakfast, hostels and guest houses over the traditional holiday resorts and luxury hotels. In doing so, they are promoting local businesses and local communities in general.

The Relationship between Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism

Similarities Between Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism:

1. Both take care of the environment: both ecotourism and sustainable travel refer to a form of tourism that takes care of the environment, by working towards reducing the impacts the environment and the world faces.

Sustainable tourism sees that the actions of the tourists do not affect the environment adversely, and ecotourism sees that as minimal impact is left on the environment.

2. Both apply to types of travel: with ecotourism, tourists travel to a specific ecological environment, and make active differences while there, touching on nature, fauna, local cultures, wildlife and other ecotourists.

With sustainable tourism, the best sustainability practices are applied while traveling, ensuring you do not contribute to the destruction of the natural environment, fauna, or wildlife.

3. Both have no internationally recognized overseer: as it stands, there is no internationally recognized or accredited body whose responsibility is to oversee the standards, monitor, assess, or certify the ecotourism or sustainable tourism industries.

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As such, it is up to individuals, groups, organizations and nations, among other bodies, to enforce these two concepts. It is also for the same reason that some organizations have managed to prioritize profits over the planet in some cases as mentioned above.

Differences between Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism:

1. Their primary aims slightly differ: It has been generally acknowledged that ecotourism focuses on ecological conservation, educating the travelers on the local environs and natural surroundings, and providing direct financial benefits to conservation and uplifting the livelihoods of the local people.

On the other hand, sustainable tourism is travel that balances the socio-cultural, environmental and economic aspects of tourism, and has as minimal impact on the environment and the local communities as possible.

2. Their categorization differ as well: ecotourism is a form of tourism or can be seen as a category of vacation, whereas sustainability applies to all types of tourism.

3. How they were established: ecotourism was first established by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990. It was introduced as the responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improve the wellbeing of the local people.

On the other hand, sustainable tourism is driven by The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). The Council, as well as UN members, hotels, tourism boards, global travel companies and others, are guided by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria

4. The concepts at work: Sustainable tourism best suits and describes business strategies and management plans for businesses and destinations. It creates a notion that the business is authentic and the experiences will be quality and healthy.

Ecotourism, on the other hand, will best apply to businesses dedicated to the conservation of wildlife, and most of them, surprisingly, work actively to support local communities.

5. Working with local communities: One of ecotourism’s primary aims is to empower the local people. It does so by respecting their cultures and history and by providing financial benefits and empowerment to the people.

Sustainable tourism is mostly aimed at profiting the business and does not necessarily have to empower the local people. If the local people are empowered under sustainable tourism, it is not much of a big deal, but with ecotourism, it has to happen.

References:

Ramadan Al-Azab, Mahmoud. (2019). Re: What is/ are difference(s) between Sustainable Tourism and Eco-tourism?. Research Gate. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/post/What_is_are_differences_between_Sustainable_Tourism_and_Eco-tourism/5c9a1cbb979fdca41d12a646/citation/download.

“Top Ecotourism Trends In 2019 – The Future Of Tourism”. (2020). Clean Travel. Retrieved from https://connect.cleantravel.org/ethical-travel/top-ecotourism-trends-in-2019-the-future-of-tourism/

Whitman, M. & Whitman, M. (2019). 6 Ecotourism Trends To Follow In 2020. Institute of Ecolonomics. Retrieved from https://ecolonomics.org/6-ecotourism-trends-to-follow-in-2020/

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