Ecotourism appeals to a wide range of travelers, of all ages and interests. Travelers who choose ecotourism are responsible consumers interested in social, economic and environmental sustainability. Seeking authentic local experiences and opportunities to give back to the communities they visit, many eco-tourists participate in voluntarism activities.
Increasingly, eco-tourists are also seeking to minimize the carbon footprint of their travel, traveling with climate in mind by planning wisely and choosing consciously.
Find out where TIES Traveler members are, and connect with fellow conscious travelers around the world at Ecotourism Explorer.
Communities living near remote ecotourism centres can reap the benefits of a range of opportunities which the industry offers them in otherwise job-scarce and remote places. But tourists and industry operators must work with communities to broaden their development opportunities, and avoid the kind of dependency on the industry that could leave communities vulnerable to job losses.
This is according to Dr Sue Snyman, who is associated with the University of Cape Town’s Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) and works for tourism operator Wilderness Safaris as the Regional Community Development Coordinator and Regional Director of the Children in the Wilderness programme.
Looking at communities living near 16 different high-end ecotourism operations in remote parts of Southern Africa, Snyman found that the benefits of ecotourism went beyond merely the job opportunities which the camps offered.
She found that the staff employed by the industry benefit from the income that came with the job, but also received skills training which they could use in other industries, they often received better nutrition as the employers gave staff three meals a day, and some were able to use their salaries in order to start up side businesses.
‘Community members who were not employed directly by the ecotourism industry also benefited,’ explains Snyman, whose work spanned camps in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
‘Often the tourism-employed staff would then hire people in their community to help with child care or with tending cattle. Similarly, they would spend their money at local businesses, which keeps money circulating within the community,’ she says.
But the closure of the Wilderness Safaris’ Pafuri Camp in the Kruger National Park after it was washed away in floods in 2012 shows how vulnerable a community can be if it becomes too dependent on ecotourism for employment in such remote parts. All staff had to be retrenched.
Snyman recommends that the industry collaborates with communities to build livelihood strategies beyond the immediate tourism-linked jobs.
‘For instance, teaching children about agriculture and training them up in vermiculture to improve the soils, these are ways of building capacity,’ says Snyman.
She said there was also a need for ‘structured’ philanthropy and development projects.
When tourists simply hand out clothes, or toys or stationery randomly, or when development projects are imposed on communities without consultation, they can be unhelpful. One example was a rollout of solar power by an NGO for a community which actually needed water in their village.
Tourism must not be seen as the panacea of rural poverty and unemployment, Snyman says, but rather as an opportunity to work with communities to improve their livelihood strategies and resilience.
Dr Snyman completed her doctorate with the EPRU in 2013, and recently had a paper on this issue published in the journal Tourism and Hospitality Research (http://thr.sagepub.com/content/14/1-2/37.abstract).
Have you ever heard the term “green hotel”? How about “sustainable resort” or “eco-friendly tours”? The green travel market can be difficult to navigate with so many terms being thrown around. Businesses sometimes use these terms dishonestly in an effort to appeal to a growing movement of conscientious travelers without actually having any environmentally or socially responsible policies in place. Here, we hope to shed some light on what these terms really mean.
Green tourism was used by researchers in the 1980s in a study that described the hotel industry’s practice of placing green placards in each room that encouraged guests to reuse their towels. The study found that many hotels ultimately made little to no effort to actually conserve resources or reduce waste; they just wanted to appear to be environmentally friendly, or “green.” It’s important that travelers dig a little deeper into hotels’ green claims when researching before booking. Fortunately, most environmentally-friendly hotels have information on their websites about their green initiatives that make it easier to learn about the concrete measures they are taking to conserve natural resources, protect plants and wildlife, and contribute to the well-being of local communities.
Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.” The key principles of ecotourism include minimizing impact, protecting biodiversity, building environmental awareness, and respecting local culture. Typically, the primary attractions for ecotourists are flora, fauna, and cultural heritage.
Sustainable tourism businesses support environmental conservation, social development, and local economies. Examples of sustainable business practices include conserving water and energy, supporting community conservation projects, recycling and treating wastes, hiring staff from the local community, paying them just wages and providing training, and sourcing locally-produced products for restaurants and gift shops. Sustainable tourism businesses take concrete actions to enhance the well-being of local communities and make positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. In doing so, they often cut down on their own costs and preserve the longevity of their businesses in addition to attracting responsible travelers. In order for sustainable tourism to thrive, it has to be profitable for business owners.
Sustainable tourism and ecotourism are similar concepts and share many of the same principles, but sustainable tourism is broader; it covers all types of travel and destinations, from luxury to backpacking and bustling cities to remote rainforests.
The Rainforest Alliance works in sustainable tourism, which encompasses all three pillars of sustainability—environmental, social, and economic. We work with tourism businesses to train and audit them on standards that have been recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for their commitment to sustainable practices.
Check out our list of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ tourism businesses, where you can go to see sustainable tourism first-hand.
Meet Court Whelan, one of the travel industry’s foremost experts on ecotourism and the newest member of the Nat Hab family of Adventure Specialists. This week we are thrilled to debut Court’s first post in a series on the critical role ecotourism plays in conservation and communities. Check back soon for new posts by The Ecotourism Expert. See the original article here.
Born and raised in Florida, Court spent much of his youth outdoors fostering a strong love and appreciation for nature and wildlife. This fascination led him to attend the University of Florida, where he received his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in a program termed “Ecotourism Entomology”. Having been the creator of his own major, he was able to design his coursework, research, and teaching to focus on, as he puts it, “conserving the world through nature and educational travel experiences.” Throughout his graduate school career he also ran a small ecotourism travel company where he planned and led over 65 expeditions to ecotourism destinations on all seven continents.
The Importance of Ecotourism
Ecotourism isn’t important – it is critical. I must confess, I really enjoy the thrill and excitement of traveling to natural areas and participating in this relatively new thing called “ecotourism”, but it’s much more than just a hobby. It’s a career and a passion of mine. So much so that I went to college for 11 years so that I could get a Ph.D. in the subject. Yeah, that’s dedication.
I’ll admit that despite having my fair share of term papers, international conferences, grant writing deadlines, and multi-day qualifying exams, it was a blast. I was fortunate to be able to travel extensively, organizing and leading over 65 group ecotourism expeditions around the world. Through all this, I was afforded a tremendous appreciation for the diverse cultures and wildlife on our planet. But, as I look back on my education, one of the biggest positives that I take away is the number of lives I was able to influence in a powerfully positive way throughout my graduate school career.
The importance of ecotourism is multi-tiered.
First, there is the traveler. These are people going out of their way to experience something new and adventurous. Returning home, they bring with them not just souvenirs, but stories, memories, and conservation messages from their travels abroad. A good ecotourism guide will impart their ecotourists with a taste of their local conservation culture. For example, what may have originated as a simple story about the origins of a game park while chatting around a campfire in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, could evolve into a discussion on environmental ethics that stays with those travelers for a lifetime. This is but one example, for each country, each guide, and each trip will provide unique and memorable opportunities for both leaders and participants to share their own stories. It may be a message about the need to plant native milkweeds to help the Monarch butterfly in its annual migration, or it may be a lesson about the importance of amphibians to monitor healthy environments in Costa Rica.
Second, there is the host country. Historically (and by historically, I mean over the past hundreds to thousands of years), the value of land has been measured primarily by the collection of natural resources it has or that land’s proximity to those resources. For example, a forest would be valuable for the wood and the potential space for crops. Prairies were valuable for the arable land and presence of animals to hunt. Mountains (albeit a bit more recently) are great places to mine for minerals and provide grazing land for animals.
Ecotourism has been a game-changer.
With this new concept (well, new since 1983 – about the same time as the founding of Nat Hab. Coincidence? Hmm…), there is a new value for natural areas – value which is still based on the collection of natural resources, but as a way to attract people for the purpose of enjoying the landscapes, wildlife, and cultures found in and around such areas. Simply put, ecotourism creates value for natural areas that remain pristine, unaltered, and, well, natural. For example, a tropical jungle is worth more alive and well when ecotourists pay to see lemurs in Madagascar or toucans in Brazil instead of cutting the jungle down for agricultural space or timber.
Third, there are the communities that are indirectly involved in ecotourism both in the host country, and the country from which the visitor originates. First, let’s list the people directly involved in ecotourism from the business side of things. These are the tour operators, the guides, the lodge and restaurant owners and employees, the vehicle drivers, the park guards, and all those people that benefit from the sale of artisanal products (i.e., souvenirs) for people to return home with. All of these people actually make money because of ecotourism. Often good money, too, by the country’s standards. Thus, they not only spend money within their own communities, but these folks are highly respected because of their prominent jobs and relatively good income. If you don’t believe me, go to the Galapagos Islands or Costa Rica and watch the excitement of local children when the guides stroll through town. They are like celebrities. Thus, ecotourism creates a conservation culture where people without any connection to the ecotourism business are positively influenced. This is all derived from the financial incentive to conserve nature.
Finally, there are the people in the ecotourist’s home country playing direct roles. These are the tour operators and the ecotourist themselves. Ecotourism is the fastest growing sector of the fastest growing industry in the world (i.e., tourism). As it continues to grow, its influence will grow as well. Every single tour operator and every single ecotourist is now an ambassador to ecotourism, which makes them ambassadors to environmental and cultural conservation, too. They themselves make conscious choices about sustainable living, but their powerful stories and messages after returning from an ecotour will reverberate loudly in our global culture. At risk of repeating myself from above, stories from trips and conservation messages learned while traveling abroad are told and retold to friends and families, bringing more and more people into the fold all the time.
So, hopefully this has overwhelmed you to believe me when I say that ecotourism is critical.