- Principles of ecotourism
- Example of an ecotourism vacation
- Ecotourism versus other types of tourism
- Free Reference Guide to Ecotourism Certifications
- Carbon offsetting vacations
Ecotourism travel focuses on the discovery of a natural or wildlife habitat in a manner that maximizes local economic and social goals, and reduces the possibility of environmental degradation. It is about preserving ecosystems, educating visitors about conservation, empowering localities, operating sustainable tourist attractions – and, most of all, having fun and unique family experiences! Greenloons defends the principles of ecotourism in that it should:
- Support the conservation of natural areas and wildlife
- Minimize air and water pollution as well as tourist waste
- Offer safe and enriching or educational visitor experiences
- Respect the cultural tradition of the host destination
- Maintain and enhance the landscape so as to avoid physical or environmental degradation
- Efficiently use scarce or non-renewable resources, and
- Maximize opportunities for local prosperity for the host destination in the form of long-term economic viability for tourism, local management control, quality employment, local retention of visitor spending, and fair distribution of economic and social benefits.
Greenloons only lists ecotour operators that have dedicated nature and wildlife tours, established energy and wildlife conservation policies, commitment to host destination economic prosperity, and adherence to environmental standards as set forth by recognized third parties.
Consider starting in San Francisco, California with a scenic two-day train ride to Denver, Colorado. With bedroom suites, all-inclusive dining and private bathroom accommodations, traveling by train may provide a fun alternative to driving along the Interstate system.
Once in Denver, you may rent a hybrid car and drive to Durango, Colorado where you check in at a lovely Bed & Breakfast that was built using reclaimed lumber and provides an organic breakfast with ingredients that were either gathered that morning from the B&B's own garden or from local farmers. You notice that the B&B also manages effective programs for energy and water conservation including employing natural light as well as utilizing environmentally-friendly cleaning products, gray water systems that recycles kitchen water for additional uses, and applying composting methods - all without sacrificing comfort.
You are excited to hear that you can use the B&B's free bicycle service to go into town and learn about the Pueblo people who once lived in the cliff dwellings located in the nearby Mesa Verde National Park. Alternatively, you could make your way to an access point on the Colorado Trail, which passes through mountains, forests, rivers and wilderness areas offering plenty of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and swimming as well as an abundance of birding and wildlife viewing. Depending on your level of adventure, you could even take the train to Silverton from Durango and hike back to your car.
It's just an example, but we think you will agree that ecotourism can be an enriching, educational, and fun experience that offers adventure for the whole family!
Read more family eco-destination ideas for the United States and eco-travel tips in the Greenloons Blog.
Ecotourism has been mixed with and incorrectly equated to other types of tourism including green, sustainable, cultural, adventure, responsible, and nature types of tourism. Following are some distinct clarifications among other tourism terms have been incorrectly applied to ecotourism:
- Sustainable Tourism –does not deplete resources and allows for a smaller number of tourists to experience nature so as not to disturb the animal's normal mating, feeding, or migratory patterns. An example is rafting trips on a free flowing river. The difference with ecotourism is that there may be no focus on the preservation of the natural habitat or economic benefit to the host destination.
- Adventure Tourism –spotlights physical outdoor activities. Examples include snorkeling, diving, or surfing a coastal area. The difference with ecotourism is that while these companies may want to preserve the environment where the activities are taking place, they may not necessarily be operating in a sustainable manner or providing educational opportunities.
- Cultural Tourism – centers on the discovery of the heritage of the host destination. An example would be a local artisan showing you how to weave a tapestry and learning from her about the traditional dress. The difference with ecotourism is that there is no focus on nature or wildlife.
- Responsible Tourism – attempts to minimize the environmental degradation of the host destination. An example is a wilderness camping trip using Leave No Trace ethics. The difference with ecotourism is that there may be no economic benefit to the host destination
- Nature Tourism – focuses on enjoying wildlife in their natural habitat. Examples include jungle lodgings in the Amazon or cruise ships that view penguins in Antarctica. The difference with ecotourism is that these trips may not have an educational component to them, may not be environmentally sustainable or responsible, and may not economically benefit the host destination.
- Green Tourism – applies to any activity or facility that operates in an environmentally friendly way. Examples include a rainforest lodge with composting toilets and solar powered lighting. The difference with ecotourism is that these lodges may be centrally controlled by a large corporation and therefore not necessarily benefit the host destination nor focus on conservation education or the preservation of wildlife.
Because there is no global standard definition, the word ecotourism has been hijacked and incorrectly marketed to the point that many consumers are confused and frustrated by the term. While not perfect, at the very least, ecotourism certifications provide a point of reference for the consumer to compare with other tour operators who claim to be offering green trips, sustainable trips, eco tours or environmentally-friendly trips.
It can be very complicated and time consuming to understand all the eco-certifications and their nuances. But, Greenloons can help in two specific ways. First, you can download our exclusive Reference Guide to Ecotourism Certifications or you can read the Ecotourism Certification Standards series within the Greenloons Blog. Each article offers a detailed explanation of the award process and evaluation criteria for each certification.
One of the reasons there isn't one universal ecotourism certification is that there is no globally agreed upon definition of ecotourism in that there are different interpretations of what constitutes a natural or wildlife habitat, what amounts to environmental degradation, and what characterizes local prosperity.
In North America, ecotourism has been heavily marketed and related to adventure travel where tourists are enticed to visit pristine areas across the globe so that they can, for example, go kayaking or horseback riding. Alternatively, in Europe, vacationers view ecotourism as a way to minimize their carbon footprint entirely by first traveling within Europe by train, for example, and then staying in rural areas where they can hike or go camping. Finally, within Africa and South America, there is an entirely different approach toward ecotourism where sightseers are encouraged to visit scenic and wildlife areas in order to help alleviate the host destination's economic and social hardships and preserve local heritage and traditions.
Learn more About Certification.
We know that it is impossible to have a 100% carbon-offset vacation – we are humans after all!
But, if armed with trusted information, we believe that consumers, like you, can make appropriate (and fun) vacations choices for yourself and your family that reduce environmental damage and empower local communities. Whether it is going on a safari, participating in adventure travel or staying at an eco resort, you have a choice to for having a memorable and responsible vacation. You can opt to offset your vacation as well by participating in a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Gold Standard carbon emissions program, like Climate Care.
Also, following on the Greenloons mantra of True Green Family Travel, it's about sharing knowledge in relation to nature discovery and cultural study, energy and water conservation, and wildlife preservation – all for the next generation.
Come share your story with the Greenloons Community!
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