What is Ecotourism?
What is ecotourism?
I’m sure that you have heard the term ‘ecotourism‘. However, you may find yourself asking the question: ‘what is ecotourism?’ Let’s start by looking at expert definitions:
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) describes ecotourism as:
“Travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” TIES, 2015
David Fennell, a leading authority on ecotourism, described it as:
“A sustainable form of natural resource-based tourism that focuses primarily on experiencing and learning about nature, and which is ethically managed to be low-impact, non-consumptive, and locally oriented (control, benefits, and scale). It typically occurs in natural areas, and should contribute to the conservation or preservation of such areas.”Fennell, 1999 (in Ecotourism: An introduction)
Whilst these provide a succinct description of the term ‘ecotourism’, we need to delve a little deeper to find out what ecotourism really is in practice.
The term emerged in the 1980s and, as people have become more and more conscious of their impact on the environment and local cultures, has grown into one of the biggest sectors of the tourism industry.
Ecotourism usually incorporates an educational element, encouraging people to respect and learn about the natural environments and local communities they visit on holiday. Ecotourism encourages tourists to ‘tread lightly’, and to apply sustainable practices so that the environment can be preserved for future generations. Furthermore, it is an incredibly powerful tool for redistributing wealth, empowering local communities and encouraging sustainable development.
Ecotourism is an alternative to mass tourism. Small-scale and low-impact, the ecotourism sector is highly regulated in order to ensure that it is, above all else, ethical.
Perhaps the best way to show what ecotourism is , is to give examples of what ecotourism most certainly is not.
Our world is littered with destinations once full of natural beauty, wonder and a uniqueness that have now been stripped away by the impact of mass tourism. Machu Picchu and The Galapagos Islands are two famous destinations on a long list of destinations classified as in danger by UNESCO.
There are also countless examples of animals being used and abused within the mass tourism industry. Some of the most notable examples include the Tiger Temples of Phuket, the dolphin that died after being passed around for selfies and the abuse of the Asian elephant for the mass tourism industry.
(For information on which experiences to avoid if you would like to protect wildlife please see our article.)
Ecotourism is the much-needed antidote to mass tourism. It gives travellers the opportunity to get more out of their experience in nature, whilst also benefitting the places and people that they interact with.
Examples of ecotourism
There are many great examples of ecotourism. Here are three flagship projects which have been particularly successful:
Over the past 60 years, Bornean orangutan populations have reduced by 50%, due in large part to a reduction in habitat size of just over a half. Samboja Lestari is a haven for orangutans, mainly thanks to the work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Their conservation efforts have meant that countless orangutans have been rehabilitated and relocated into the wild. Ecotourists and volunteers play a key part in this project, helping to assist on the ground, spread awareness and also provide economic support for the local people.
View the experience here.
Eco Retreats Yurts and Tipis is a project in North Wales. They endeavour to maintain the beauty of their natural setting and the temporary nature of the structures assists the surrounding land in recovery as they are moved in the winter. They allow guests to ‘get back to basics’ with no wifi or electricity to distract them. All products at this eco-retreat are fair trade and ethically sourced, even the water comes straight from the local spring.
View the experience here.
On the Gorillas and Plains tour the aim isn’t just to minimise and reduce the impact of the tourism industry it’s to actually leave a positive impact on the environments and communities tourists visit. This is true ecotourism. They have got their very own ‘code of practice’ to guide the clients and company in practice. On the gorillas and plains tours local guides are used to maximise the positive impact on the local community and enhance the tourist’s experience. Some of the tourist spend is also dedicated to local and international charities.
View the experience here.
For the chance to experience ecotourism yourself, search our site.
Want to find out more about what ecotourism is?
For some truly expert opinions, David Fennell, professor of Tourism and Environment at Brock University is at the forefront of research into ecotourism and tourism ethics. He’s also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Ecotourism and author of the book Ecotourism. You can buy the book on Amazon