The holidays might be over, but vacation season is just beyond the horizon. While planning your travel this year we encourage you to depart from conventional tourism and experience the world in a different way.
What Does That Mean?
The overall impact tourism has on the surrounding areas is largely disregarded, if not entirely unnoticed. Tourists mean more people, and more people mean more development and traffic, more pollution and waste, and more resource consumption. In communities near oceans, lakes, forests, and nearly every ecosystem outside of a cement city, it eventually means finding itself in a situation like the Great Barrier Reef or the Everest area where there has been region-wide deforestation. When the vacation ends and the resources dry up, tourism will take its money somewhere less damaged and leave the locals holding the bill.
We all love vacation and experiencing new places, and a majority of us don’t mean any harm. So how do we take this largely one-sided relationship and make it mutually beneficial? Conservationists have asked and answered this question with ecotourism.
What Exactly Is “Ecotourism”?
The International Ecotourism Society defines Ecotourism as,”responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people”. Essentially, ecotourism is a way for people to experience some of the most beautiful places on Earth without ruining them for the locals or for future visitors. Destination spots that exercise ecotourism minimize the impact of hotels, trails, and other infrastructure designed to accommodate tourists, by making a concentrated effort to use recycled materials, build with materials already in abundance, use renewable energy sources, and practice environmentally-conscious waste disposal. Ecotourism aims to build environmental awareness, not just by using sustainable practices, but also by educating visitors and the surrounding communities.
Why Do I Care?
Because you’re a good person. And because we are in a constant battle with ourselves to protect the world around us while still being able to experience and enjoy it. It is better to travel in a way that protects — or even improves — the area than to travel in a way that destroys it. It’s not just about safeguarding wildlife, either. Another important component to ecotourism is the benefit it has for the host country’s inhabitants. Ecotourism projects can provide sustainable jobs in hospitality and in conservation efforts. Residents may reap the economical benefits of tourism without the danger of running out of resources or being pushed out of their homes. Whereas mass tourism tends to trample on local cultures, ecotourism promotes cultural sensitivity and strives for minimal impact on the human population.
How Can I Eco-Tour?
Know before you go! There are copious online resources for eco-adventurers. Ecotourism projects rely heavily on the responsibility of travelers. Tourists are encouraged to use the resources provided to learn about the local wildlife and culture, and to follow the rules that govern conservation areas. There are thousands of eco-friendly locations in some of the most extreme and beautiful places on the planet: such as the sandy beaches of Palau, the snow-capped mountains of the Norwegian Fjords, the cloudforests of Peru, or the unique and thriving ecosystem of Kerala, India. For more travel inspiration check out Earth911’s top 6 ecotourism destinations for 2017: http://earth911.com/living-well-being/travel-living/top-6-ecotourism-destinations-2017/
Any Last Thoughts?
Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. As developing countries seek to benefit from this industry they risk the loss of local wildlife, resources and even their homes. By using sustainable, eco-friendly, and culturally-sensitive practices, we provide longevity that might otherwise not be possible for so many environmentally and culturally sensitive destinations. As someone who grew up dodging diapers and hypodermic needles in the muddy waters of the Jersey shore, I urge you all to explore ecotourism and be responsible when experiencing the beauty of this world.
Rainforest Partnership is proud to have worked with the people of Peru to develop ecotourism businesses that are directed and managed by the surrounding communities. Discover the fantastic Colibri Cloudforest and see how we’re helping make a difference: http://rainforestp.wpengine.com/projects/colibri/