What Does Ecotourism Involve?

What Does Ecotourism Involve?
Ecotourism is trendy, but what is it really? It's important to understand a few principles so you can evaluate whether an expedition or site is legitimate, or merely using the ecotourism label for greenwashing. Definitions of ecotourism vary, but share some basic tenets. Ecotourism should:

Minimize impact

Keeping impact on the local environment and on the entire planet as low as possible is a key feature of responsible travel. Buying carbon offsets for air travel is one component. Avoiding activities that degrade the environment is also critical. Numbers of tourists should be limited to avoid overtaxing the local environment. Hotels and tour operators should run their operations sustainably, including reducing energy use, proper waste disposal, and recycling to the maximum extent possible.

Build awareness

Travel is a great way to experience different regions and cultures, as well as raising awareness about social, political and environmental concerns. Visitors should be offered opportunities to learn about these issues--for example, by visiting local farms, wildlife preserves or other conservation areas where they can talk directly to farmers, scientists and others involved in the projects.

Support and involve the local community

Ecotourism provides employment and direct financial benefit to local communities. It also supports conservation efforts and encourages sustainable development by giving locals an incentive to preserve the environment. Using local guides and transport and patronizing hotels, restaurants and shops run by locals instead of foreign or multinational corporations is essential in making sure revenue from ecotourism benefits the local community. It's also the best way to have a unique and more authentic travel experience.

Avoid exploitation of wildlife

Don't buy parts of plants or animals, or products made from them, that are endangered, threatened or treated inhumanely. In some cases doing so is illegal as well as unethical. Sea turtles, corals, ivory, furs, teeth and claws are a few examples. Taking souvenirs such as stones or shells should also be avoided.

Respect local customs and people

Dress and behave appropriately when traveling abroad. Respect people's privacy, and ask permission before taking someone's photograph. You should also ask permission before entering a place of worship, someone's home, or other private space. When buying crafts from local artisans, don't bargain too aggressively: a few dollars isn't critical to you, but may be to them. Tip in accordance with local custom.

Encourage responsible behavior

Don't harass wildlife or deliberately disturb habitats. Stay on trails when hiking, and be sure to pay all required entrance/parking fees when visiting parks or other attractions. Keep vehicles on designated roads or tracks, and observe regulations in natural areas.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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