Not unlike our nomadic ancestors, most of us enjoy a change of scenery now and then, discovering new lands, foods, traditions and cultures, and it’s possible to do so without harming the environment.
According to the World Tourism Organization, international tourism will reach 1.6 billion arrivals by 2020. To help minimize the negative impacts of tourism on the environment and cultural heritage while maximizing the benefits for residents of destinations, the WTO members have endorsed a “Global Code of Ethics for Tourism”.
The Code includes guidelines for “responsible travelers” to help preserve natural environments, protect wildlife and habitats, and refrain from purchasing products made from endangered plants or animals.
These tenets are directly in line with “ecotourism,” a concept that grew out of the global environmental movement of the late 1970s. It began as nature-based, adventure tourism and soon became one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry worldwide.
By 1987, the definition of ecotourism had expanded to “the practice of touring natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact, while benefiting conservation and host communities. ”
Among the basic principles of ecotourism are building environmental and cultural awareness and respect as well as providing positive experiences for visitors and hosts alike.
Side benefits of ecotourism are assistance in conservation efforts, financial support and empowerment for local people, and an increase in awareness of and sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social situations.
Examples of ecotourism range from local wilderness expeditions and sea kayaking to stays at Green Globe accredited nature resorts, such as Binna Burra Mountain Lodge in Australia, or excursions to Fiji’s Turtle Island. A basic rule of all such tours is “Leave No Trace”—native environs should remain as undisturbed as possible.
Groups such as The International Ecotourism Society are working hard to unite conservation, communities and sustainable travel, educating tour operators and the general public about responsible travel to natural areas. The message is clear: for both travelers and hosts, ecotourism can be good for all involved.
Alfablue, March 2013