The concept of ecotourism is one of ambiguity and dispute. There is no universal definition for ecotourism, nor is there a certifying agency. A common misconception is that ecotourism is just nature based tourism, the act of surrounding yourself with natures little wonders. The truth is far more complex. Ecotourism has to be both ecologically and socially conscious. Its goal is to minimize the impact that tourism has on an area through cooperation and management and in some case it even encourages travellers to have a positive impact on their new surroundings.
A commonly accepted definition of ecotourism is:
“Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people"*
Ideally, ecotourism should…
- Minimize the negative impacts of tourism
- Contribute to conservation efforts
- Employ locally and give money back to the community
- Educate visitors about the local environment and culture
- Cooperate with local people to manage natural areas
- Provide a positive experience for both visitor and host
An example? Homestays
A popular alternative to eco-lodges, especially for those who are travelling with a volunteer travel provider such as i-to-i, is to stay in homestay accommodation. The main benefit of this is that your accommodation costs will be going straight back into the community. In many cases your meals are also includes and this usually means that local suppliers will benefit from your stay too.
Sustainable, alternative, responsible tourism - what's does it all mean?
There are many other words to describe a similar idea. The terms ecotourism, sustainable tourism or responsible tourism are often used interchangeably. The main ideas behind these are all similar, but there are small differences.
Alternative tourism is any type of travel that is not mass tourism (i.e. beach vacations or traditional sightseeing tours). This includes ecotourism, backpacking, volunteer tourism, adventure tourism, historical tourism, tornado chasing, couch surfing or any other form of travel that is atypical.
The widely accepted definition for sustainable tourism is “Tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future."* It has the same ideals as ecotourism but is not limited to natural areas.
Responsible travel is a practice used by travellers guiding how they act in a host country. It has roots in sustainable tourism but focuses on being respectful as a guest in a foreign country, such as asking permission to take photographs or enter a home, observing some of the customs, such as dress, or making an effort to learn the language.
*The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)