Ecological tourism, often condensed to ecotourism, is a question of thinking about the environmental impact that you make by travelling, and applying yourself to the question of how to travel in an environmentally responsible manner.
Backpackers, student travelers and hostel-goers in general, have been very much in the vanguard of those flocking to an important movement which the International Ecotourism Society defines as: “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
How can tourism harm the local environment?
The ways in which harm is done around the world in the name of the tourist industry are legion. In many parts of the world, governments and local business make assumptions about what tourists who come to their countries might want, when, in fact, they are only representing a small section of travellers and holiday-makers.
Accordingly, local people may be displaced from their homes and communities to install a new hotel complex and golf course. Naturally, a large influx of tourists inevitably also makes intense demands on local water supplies, that most precious of resources in many parts of the world.
How can you become an eco-traveler?
As a general rule, the central tenets of ecotourism include an emphasis on connecting with local culture, outdoor activities, and ecological programs designed to increase awareness, and promote protection of local wildlife.
It also frequently involves volunteer schemes designed to help local communities in some of the poorest countries around the world, by both improving their economic situation and encouraging the use of some of the latest technologies relating to energy efficiency, recycling and the reuse of water.
Where can you go to become an ecotourist?
Ultimately, ecotourism was alive and flourishing long before a term was coined to describe it. And it certainly isn’t exclusive to any one part of the world.
Whilst projects in far-flung jungles may attract more press coverage and disproportionately more tourists, there is almost certainly a highly worthwhile venture somewhere near you, of which you weren’t even aware. In fact, the industry has attracted flak from some quarters in recent years for enticing people to fly across the globe – thus creating a great, big dirty carbon footprint – whilst ostensibly en route to do something for the benefit of the environment.
The future of traveling…
The topic of mankind’s influence on the planet, and particularly the harm we do when we travel has never been more of an issue. From carbon footprints and composting toilets to sustainable tourism and solar-powered hostels, the travel world has to face up to the challenges of the future by asking itself the difficult questions.
The global traveler has come in for a lot of stick from environmentalists in recent years, some of it, at least, not altogether deserved. Aviation accounts for roughly 3% of total carbon dioxide emissions annually. This compares pretty favorably to the 20% that road transport and the heating of our homes each contribute.
The Carbon Trust reported that, of the eleven tons of carbon for which each person in the United Kingdom is responsible, only 0.68 (less than 10%) came as a result of flying.
What’s more, traveling can be an enormous force for the good, and act as a powerful redistributive device by which those who live in richer countries can share a small amount of their wealth with the developing world.
Tourism is, according to some sources, the world economy’s most profitable business sector, employing 200 million worldwide and making profits of $3.6 trillion. What’s more, in 80% of countries around the world (more than 150) tourism constitutes one of the five most important contributors to GDP. In sixty of these it is the single most important.
This is not to duck the issue: travel, even for those of us lucky enough to be able to afford it, is a luxury, not a right. But we feel that if we make changes – both big and small – in the way we travel, then we can have an impact on the damage that is done in the name of tourism, both to people all over the globe and the world in which we live, thus ensuring that it doesn’t (quite literally) ‘cost the earth’.