What is the definition and meaning of ecotourism? In what ways can ecotourism hurt the environment? Why has ecotourism been growing and how is it different from mass tourism and staycation? Let’s take a closer look at these questions.

Ecotourism Official Definition

According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. Such traveling can be created thanks to an international network of individuals, institutions, and the tourism industry where tourists and tourism professionals are educated on ecological issues.

At the same time, the Australian National Ecotourism defines ecotourism as “ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.”

Ecotourism: The Principles Behind It

TIES highlights some principles associated with what ecotourism stands for: more than minimizing physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts, ecotourism is also about building a culture of environmental respect and protection while providing positive experiences to visitors and hosts. On the host’s side, an ecotourism mindset is one generating value for local people and the industry, and they should help deliver remarkable experiences to visitors while raising their sensitivity to local environmental, political or social issues.

The Benefits and Reasons Why Ecotourism Has Been Growing

Among the reasons that help understand why ecotourism has been growing are:

  • It is easier to access remote ecotourism destination nowadays thanks to cheap flights and accessible infrastructures;
  • Many people are not happy or feel fulfilled with traditional tourism destinations and activities – so there’s a greater interest in challenging and more educative tourism;
  • There is a greater awareness about the need to protect the environment and desire to contribute towards this cause;
  • Travelers wish to be perceived as different and eco-friendly;
  • Ecotourism may help protect sensitive environment locations and raise awareness on local environmental and social delicate issues;
  • It may also generate income opportunities for local people

Why Join the Ecotourism Movement

Joining the ecotourism cause is a way of guaranteeing the tourism industry will continue prospering and providing social and economic benefits to destinations and communities throughout the globe. Ecotourism provides the opportunity for immersion into the natural world in an enjoyable and effective manner, resulting in greater compassion and better stewardship of the world’s remaining natural wonders.

The Environmental Dimension of Ecotourism: It Can Also Harm The Environment

Despite the goal of protecting the environment, ecotourism can, even if unintentionally, create environmental harm because:

  • Ecotourists often go to (already very) environmentally fragile areas that risk collapse or getting eroded;
  • Disturbance of wildlife, the removal of vegetation (for plant collection, for instance) and garbage generation increases due to visitors are also likely consequences of ecotourism;
  • Some visits are done in sensitive periods like during breeding or hatching periods;
  • There are hidden impacts such as the consumption of fuel for air or road travel;
  • There’s the risk of ecotourism turning into mass tourism with a huge impact at different levels besides environmental.
  • Off-site impacts such as clearing lands to build infrastructures (roads, hotels) are also relevant;

Ecotourism vs. Conventional (Mass) Tourism: What’s the Difference?

  • There is a greater chance of eco-tourists traveling to nature-surrounded sites compared to mass tourists looking for plenty of distractions, cultural sites, and the busy life of large cities;
  • Ecotourism usually means travelers make their own travel arrangements, while mass tourism relies on a greater number of travel agents and tour operators;
  • With mass tourism, the expectations are that there are many different services involved, while in ecotourism site there are only a few if any, services involved;
  • Ecotourism activities are usually nature-related (such as hiking and exploring trails, birdwatching or reef diving) and, therefore, tend to be more physically demanding whereas typical tourism is more comfortable and less physical;
  • Small groups and long-term stays are also common in ecotourism travelers, while mass tourism often relies on large groups staying for short time periods;

Ecotourism and Staycation

Just like ecotourism, “staycation” is also a term representing an idea with a reduced ecological impact. Staycation, i.e., vacations spent at home or near home rather than traveling to distant places, have the potential to cause less environmental harm as less fuel (or no fuel at all if we consider electric vehicles) is spent. It also means more money spent at a local or national level and this consumption helps strengthen the economy, supports existing or new jobs and increases local resilience.

[Photo by Marieke Weller on Unsplash]