What is eco tourism?
I’m sure that you have heard the term ‘eco tourism‘. However, you may find yourself asking the question: ‘what is ecotourism?’ Let’s start by looking at expert definitions:
The International Eco tourism Society (TIES) describes eco tourism 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 eco tourism, 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 ‘eco tourism’, we need to delve a little deeper to find out what eco tourism 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.
Eco tourism usually incorporates an educational element, encouraging people to respect and learn about the natural environments and local communities they visit on holiday. Eco tourism 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.
Eco tourism is an alternative to mass tourism. Small-scale and low-impact, the eco tourism sector is highly regulated in order to ensure that it is, above all else, ethical.
What is eco tourism NOT?
Perhaps the best way to show what ecotourism is , is to give examples of what eco tourism 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.)
Eco tourism 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 eco tourism
There are many great examples of eco tourism. Here are three flagship projects which have been particularly successful:
Ever since Max (Eco Companion’s founder) spent weeks in Costa Rica last year, he has obsessed over how to create the very best way to experience this beautiful country. This tour is focused on what he judged to be the most spectacular parts that Costa Rica has to offer for any wildlife-loving traveller.
Costa Rica is well known for being a pioneer in ecotourism. The entire country has got behind the concept, with 25% of its total land area protected within national parks – and what’s more, there are plans to expand this to 50% in the coming years. Their eco lodges live up to high standards too, as the country even has its own sustainable tourism certification system named CST (that’s the green leaves you’ll see on many hotel pages).
View the experience here.
This trip is made for adventurers looking to avoid the overcrowded tourist-heavy destinations and see nature’s beauty in the most complete and untouched way! Guyana has experienced less than 1% deforestation. It is one of a tiny handful of places left in the world left largely untouched by humanity. This allows for some of the most spectacular opportunities for exploring beautiful natural landscapes and rare wildlife sightings!
While you go out to enjoy all of the Guyanese culture (rum), you will be directly supporting the local businesses that exist including many that have sole attention to sustainability. Plus all the food included within this trip is locally sourced to avoid unnecessary air miles and to make sure you enjoy the foods of the country.
Included within the cost of this trip is an Iwokrama Forest user fee contribution as well as contributions to the protected areas you will be visiting like Kaeiteur and Iwokrama that will go towards conservation efforts. You yourself will also get to learn about research done by environmental scientists and biologists. This learning in itself is a key part of eco tourism that is very much needed for a holistic approach to be able to succeed.
View the experience here.
Eco Companion is proud to put together a very special one time adventure, giving you the chance to escape the masses and discover a wilder side to Iceland!
Your accommodation for this trip has been certified by Vakinn, the official tourist board for quality and sustainable travel in Iceland. The certificate requires the holder to meet a number of criteria. At the lowest level, this includes recycling facilities for waste and responsible treatment of the region (e.g. by supporting development, nature conservation, and/or community projects in the area) alongside numerous other initiatives.
Simply by booking through Eco Companion too you will be automatically carbon offsetting your flights and donating to the purchase of highly biodiverse areas of land for protection through our partners at World Land Trust. This is all part of EC’s mission in a bottle that every customer receives with their first booking with Eco Companion (see included list for more details).
View the experience here.
Want to find out more about what eco tourism is?
For some truly expert opinions, David Fennell, professor of Tourism and Environment at Brock University is at the forefront of research into eco tourism and tourism ethics. He’s also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Eco tourism and author of the book Eco tourism. You can buy the book on Amazon