Have you ever wanted to go whale watching off Orcas Island in Washington State? Has it always been your dream to fly fish for Arapaima in Rewa, a remote Guyanan village? Maybe wildlife photography in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park is more your speed.
Ecotourism has taken the travel industry by storm, allowing tourists to explore the Earth’s natural wonders up close. However, ecotourism is more than just watching various species in the wild or taking a break to soak in a hot spring.
Before you start booking your next destination, you should first know what ecotourism is, the pros and cons, and the most eco-friendly way to plan your trip.
By Cora Gold, Editor-in-Chief of Revivalist
The International Ecotourism Society (IES) describes ecotourism as traveling to natural areas in a responsible way that conserves habitats and supports the local populations and economy. One of the more crucial components of ecotourism is education, which encompasses staff and visitors alike.
In looser terms, ecotourism refers to recreational travel that nurtures deep ecological understanding and appreciation for nature, cultures and conservation.
The estimated global market for ecotourism reached $181.1 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $333.8 billion by 2027.
As climate change and human activity degrade entire ecosystems, ecotourism often delivers a final opportunity for visitors to see and experience these destinations before they disappear. For example, rising sea temperatures negatively impact lobster fishing in Maine, while agriculture and urban development have dramatically shrunk the Florida Everglades. While irresponsible travel can harm these environments, there are ways you can appreciate them without leaving a footprint.
There are several reasons why the ecotourism industry is growing in popularity. There are several benefits aside from the ability for travelers to immerse themselves in the natural world.
- It fosters environmental awareness and cultural appreciation with high regard for host countries’ social, political, spiritual and ecological conditions.
- People are more environmentally aware. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 64% of Americans believe environmental protection should be a top priority of federal officials.
- It helps generate funds for conservation projects and management in local economies.
- There’s greater interest in educational travel experiences.
- Improved flights and infrastructure enable greater accessibility to remote destinations.
- It helps create jobs and boost economic growth in host countries, alleviating poverty and unemployment rates.
- Approximately 87% of global travelers want to be more sustainable, while 67% would be willing to spend 5% more on their vacations to do so.
Ecotourism aims to build better, safer human-environmental interactions. However, there are some downsides to the industry, as well.
Conservation efforts and education are the pillars of ecotourism, but increased human activity typically has the opposite effect. Resource exploitation poses a significant concern as locals and tourists alter environments and drive wildlife away. Likewise, tourists may visit in droves during susceptible breeding periods, negatively affecting biodiversity.
There is also an increased demand for more resort-like amenities, accommodations and businesses. Ultimately, development degrades habitats and the local environment. The economy bears direct risks of collapse when plant and animal wildlife disappear in an already ecologically fragile area. It’s crucial to research any resorts or tourist attractions before you book your trip.
According to UN Environment, the tourism sector is set to generate a 154% increase in energy consumption, 131% increase in greenhouse gas emissions, 152% increase in water consumption and 251% increase in waste disposal by 2050.
There is more to ecotourism than spending time in nature and participating in cultural activities. A crucial aspect of sustainable travel is sustainability itself. Keep these eco-friendly travel tips in mind when planning your next trip.
Rather than travel abroad, decrease your carbon footprint and fuel consumption by choosing a staycation instead. There are likely several local ecotourism attractions you can visit. You’ll also help boost the economy and support tourism employment on a regional or national scale.
The word “overtourism” is used to describe the hordes of travelers that visit popular bucket-list destinations and take Instagram-worthy photos. Their love for specific attractions runs so deep that they risk damaging the environment.
When planning your ecotourism vacation, consider venturing to nearby remote areas not frequented by others. Do your research for a more authentic, unique travel experience that is just as fulfilling.
The International Energy Agency reports that transportation accounts for 37% of carbon emissions and relies on fossil fuels more than any other sector.
Consider your modes of travel, from flying to how you’ll get around on the ground when you get to your destination. Sustainable transportation may include traveling by bus, train or even bike. Renting a bicycle is a great way to take in scenic towns and landscapes.
If you decide to rent a car when you arrive, try to go with an electric, hybrid or smaller vehicle.
The tourism industry lost about 62 million jobs worldwide in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Help communities build back their economies by staying at locally owned hotels, dining at neighborhood restaurants and buying from small-town artisans.
Additionally, visiting nature preserves and other protected areas help protect resources and wildlife. Your park entry fees usually go toward conservation activities and operations.
Practicing eco-friendly behaviors is essential, particularly if you’re traveling somewhere that doesn’t have proper waste management measures in place.
Make sure to reduce your use of plastics, bring reusable water bottles with a purifier, and conserve water and energy wherever possible.
Those with the travel bug may be excited to book their next ecotourism adventure. As a starting point for planning the trip of a lifetime, you may consider visiting these popular destinations:
- Cruise through the Norwegian Fjords, Norway
- Trek through Joshua Tree National Park, California
- Take an airboat ride in the Everglades, Florida
- Snorkel in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
- Kayak through the jungles of Luang Namtha, Laos
- Hike in Landmannalaugar, Iceland
There are endless possibilities for you to explore the natural world on your next eco-adventure. Remember that ecotourism means traveling safely and sustainably, with environmental conservation and cultural preservation in mind.
About the Author
Cora Gold has a passion for writing about life, happiness and sustainability. As Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist, she loves to share her insights and find inspiration from others. Follow Cora on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.