Jenny Green, Leaf Group ; Updated April 27, 2018, http://traveltips.usatoday.com
A vacation at an ecotourism site can give a warm, fuzzy feeling. Ecotourists learn about the ecosystems, traditions and cultures of their destination without missing out on adventure, excitement and relaxation. For local communities, it’s a win-win experience. Ecotourism provides support through employment and other means, but not at the expense of the local environment. Search listings at reputable websites before booking a vacation to avoid unscrupulous companies that don’t offer genuine ecotourism opportunities.
Ecotourism and the Environment
Ecotourism helps protect natural habitats and pristine environments. The wealth of poorer countries is often tied up in natural resources like forests, minerals and land that could be used for agriculture. Exploiting these resources often means altering or destroying wildlife habitats and beautiful natural landscapes. Ecotourism allows countries and communities to build their economies without harming the environment, which means that local wildlife can thrive and visitors can enjoy untouched destinations. To check that vacation accommodation is environmentally friendly, check the accommodation’s website for policies on waste management, recycling, renewable energy use and energy efficiency.
Economic Benefits of Ecotourism
Local jobs are only one of the economic benefits of ecotourism. As well as providing an income for staff who work at ecotourism sites, ecotourism allows them the opportunity to receive training in skills that can transfer to other areas of employment and even nutrition when they receive meals at work. Surplus income allows workers or their family members to start up small businesses or to pass on the money to other community members by buying local goods and paying for child care and other services. Ecotourism companies can also help give back to the community by offering training in useful skills.
Ecotourism and Travelers
The advantages that ecotourism offer travelers are personal, but their effects are widespread. Through visiting areas of stunning natural beauty, seeing animals in their native habitats and meeting members of local communities, travelers can increase their awareness of the importance of conserving resources and avoiding waste. They’re encouraged to live more sustainably at home, and they can also increase their understanding of and sensitivity toward other cultures. Additionally, travelers learn how to help support other communities, not by handing out free gifts like toys and stationery, but by buying local produce and goods. When ecotourists return home, they spread the message to their families, friends and coworkers.
Characteristics of Ecotourism
Unfortunately, abuse of the ecotourism label does exist, but tourists can judge the validity of a destination by looking at several factors. Good ecotourism conserves local cultural and biological diversity, promotes the sustainable use of resources and supports local economies through employment and the use of local services. Other factors to look for include empowerment of the local community by shared participation in management, cultural and environmental awareness and minimal impact of tourist activities on local natural resources. To find genuine ecotourism opportunities, search the directories of reputable organizations such as The International Ecotourism Society and Responsible Travel.