As the world is feeling the heat of global warming and climate change, different industries are taking steps to uphold the integrity of our environment. The global tourism industry is no exception. The trillion-dollar sector has embraced eco-tourism to parry the impacts of mass tourism on precious destinations and our Mother Nature at large.
Eco-tourism is a relatively simple concept – it means to travel to natural areas in an environmentally-responsible manner. It promotes the idea that we should explore new destinations for leisure in a way that conserves the environment and sustains the overall well-being of the local population.
It’s the focus of eco-tourism on education, conservation, the socio-economic participation of native people, and traveler responsibility that differentiates it from other forms of tourism. It’s about creating a sustainable way of traveling that reduces the impact of visitor behavior, supports conservation efforts of the local people, and upholds the principles of biodiversity.
A peek into eco-tourism’s history
Eco-tourism is the brainchild of Sierra Club’s Outing Program, which started in 1901 as an annual expedition that encouraged its members to preserve forests in Sierra Nevada’s backcountry. The environmental activism that took place in the 1960-70’s is, however, the fountainhead of the modern eco-tourism movement. Claus-Dieter Hetzer, an adventurer and an academician from The Berkeley Forum, California, is believed to have pioneered the term “eco-tourism” in 1965 and introduced “eco-tours” in the Yucatan towards the end of 1960’s.
Megan Epler Wood took eco-tourism a notch higher in the early 1980’s after the founder of World Wildlife Fund hired her as a wildlife biologist. She teamed up with Thomas Lovejoy, the godfather of biodiversity and Russell Mittermeier, the current President of Conservation International to provide beneficial opportunities to local people of affected areas and protecting valuable natural ecosystems of the world.
There have been many other personalities who promoted eco-tourism through the 1990s, including Jeff Greenwald, who founded Ethical Traveler and Jonathan Tourtellot from the Destination Stewardship Centre of NatGeo. It is through the efforts of these environmental thinkers that the global tourism industry took a responsible seating and eco-tourism shaped into a powerful green movement over the years.
Principles of eco-tourism
The fundamental principle of eco-tourism is to bring wildlife/nature conservationists, travel and tourism industry experts, and local communities in one frame to shift the focus of tourism activities from short-term profits to long-term environmental sustainability. The objective is to provide:
- Conservational benefits to marine and terrestrial ecosystems by ensuring that tourists explore their culture, history, and ecology respectfully and responsibly.
- Accommodations, attractions, and activities that create a win-win situation for both tourists and the environment, including aquatic ecosystems and local flora and fauna.
- Economic opportunities for local communities and a friendly environment where the conflict between man and nature is appropriately mitigated.
- Regulatory mechanisms to enforce accreditation of tourism facilities and ensure proper utilization of monetary resources in the conservation of the local ecology.
- Awareness and educational programs for local communities and travel industry stakeholders to promote the benefits of eco-tourism.
Given the widespread carbon footprint of the tourism industry, the idea of eco-tourism comes as a revolution. Responsible travel is becoming the order of the day for promoting environmental, economic, and social sustainability in all tourist destinations of the world.
The UN World Tourism Organization predicts that 57 percent of international tourist footfalls by 2030 will be on burgeoning economies, which are gaining traction as eco-tourism hubs. The concept of eco-tourism, however, has to be adopted at every level of the tourism industry, starting from travelers themselves, who need to comply with the norms of sustainable tourism judiciously.
Becoming an eco-tourist: The tips you should follow for responsibly satiating your wanderlust
If you are an avid traveler, you probably have a bucket list of natural destinations ready. Before you embark on your expedition, you should know how to travel responsibly. Here are a few tips to become an eco-tourist:
1. Go to a place with conservational value
If you are planning on a trip to the wild, you should consider going to a national park or a wildlife sanctuary or a biosphere reserve. A historic city is a good option if you feel like revisiting old times. If the place is declared a World Heritage Sites, there’s nothing like it because you get a chance to spot rare monuments and floral and faunal species. These places preserve their natural beauty and create a friendly space where humans and environmental components cohabit together.
2. Get local knowledge to do your bit when traveling
After you shortlist your destination, try finding as much information as you can on the place. Read about its wildlife, accommodations, means of transport, and local culture and traditions so that you can be more responsible while exploring different attractions there. The more information you collect, the more thoughtful you become while planning your travel. You should ensure that your activities don’t disrupt the essence of the place you are visiting.
3. Look for eco-tourism camps or lodges
You can search the web for environmentally-certified hotels, homestays, camps, and resorts so that you can connect better with nature. Eco-friendly accommodation facilities often refrain from providing amenities that threaten the ecology of the place. These prove to be a good option for environmentally-conscious travelers who seek to reduce their carbon footprint. At the same time, these places are amazing retreats for anyone who wishes to escape the concrete landscape for a while.
4. Be careful of what you eat
We all love to eat while traveling but that doesn’t mean we harm the environment in the process. When vacationing in a new place, you should check out the local cuisines instead of getting imported food items. Not only does this give local restaurants an economic boost but also provides a glimpse into the place’s local culture. You should go for sustainably-sourced, organic foods as much as possible, and avoid eating at places that use disposable cups and plates. You will contribute less to the litter this way.
5. Avoid plastic at all cost
Plastic is one of the most hazardous pollutants that our environment is fighting. Hence, as a responsible eco-tourist, you should avoid plastic at all cost. Plastic bottles and food wrappers not only harm the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem but also spoil the aesthetic beauty of the place. Use reusable plates and bottles while traveling so that you don’t contribute to the looming problem of land and water pollution.
6. Get around the place responsibly
While going around the place, you should be considerate towards the local people. You can hire a local guide to take you around the various attractions of the destination. If you fancy souvenirs and mementos, why not buy them from the local people? Doing so give them a good source of income. You should be respectful towards their culture and traditions, and leave behind a memorable impression of yourself in their mind.
7. Don’t feed wildlife
If you are visiting a place rich in wildlife, avoid feeding the animal there. Some national parks and wildlife sanctuaries strictly prohibit tourists from such practices because it goes against the ethicality of the place. Wild animals should be left peacefully in their natural habit, and you shouldn’t go and disrupt it in any form. You should only view them from a distance and take pictures without giving them a sense of fear. Make sure you follow what your tour guide says while navigating various aspects of these conservation areas.
8. Leave smoking (even if it’s for some time)
Smokers often crave for a few puffs at odd times. If you are among those, then perhaps you will have to stop it for the time you are traveling. Visiting a place of conservational value means you can’t harm its integrity with your habits. Cigarette buds take about twenty-five years to biodegrade, a fact that makes them extremely harmful to the environment. At the same time, smoking in the forests can also trigger forest fires, which can be a massive ecological calamity. Hence you should avoid smoking when you are in an eco-tourist destination.
9. Join a conservation organization
Last but certainly not the least, you can do your bit to protect the environment by joining an organization is that actively engaged in the protection of wildlife and conservation of natural ecosystems. There are a couple of organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, which are involved in environmental conservation and eco-tourism activities on a global level. You can volunteer for them or make donations to support this cause.
Given the environmental threats that are looming over the world, it becomes imperative for every traveler to embrace the norms of eco-tourism. It is only by reducing impacts of harmful tourist behaviors and increasing awareness about eco-friendly traveling that the global tourism industry will be able to achieve long-term sustainability.