Travelers tend to group themselves into categories when it comes to what motivates them to experience the world. Some travelers’ sole aim is to taste new flavors (the “foodie”), while some are cultural travelers and history buffs. Some look to backpack on the cheap, while others simply want a break on an exotic beach.
There is an endless list of reasons why people travel, and a seemingly endless list of stereotypes to categorize them into. You’ve no doubt also come across the term eco-travel too. Though unlike being a foodie, a beach-bum, or a wine connoisseur, “eco-tourism” is one term which ultimately affects every kind of traveler, and something that, regardless of your interests, every traveler should care about.
So What Exactly is Ecotourism?
The terms eco-friendly, ecotourism, and eco-travel are plastered everywhere these days, and have become somewhat of a buzz word, with all industries within travel scrambling to jump on the bandwagon. So just what is ecotourism, and why are so many companies, countries, and institutions jumping on board?
Is it just a gimmicky trend to grab your business, or should you really be concerned with at least attempting to contribute in becoming an eco-traveler yourself. Being a responsible traveler, a socially conscious traveler; why should you even care?
When people think of eco-travel they think of visiting an exotic natural landscape where everything is organic and the motto “take only pictures, leave only footprints” applies. Some may think of the eco-traveler as a hippie, animal rights activist, or extreme believer of climate change.
Although ecotourism can involve natural beauty and promotes reducing our carbon footprint, it goes well beyond that. It is more about a way of traveling rather than a reason to travel, or your personal interests, and is something that every type of traveler can incorporate into their itineraries.
All Types of Travel Depend on EcoTourism
You may not be into traveling the world to experience natural wonders and wildlife, however all types of travel are connected to, and ultimately depend on, responsible ecotourism.
Conserving resources and minimizing our impact on the environments around the world ensures the places we travel to and the reasons we travel to those destinations remain intact for future visits by ourselves and future generations.
Should we choose (some would argue continue) to negatively impact global environments, future foodies won’t have the opportunity to experience endemic cuisine due to the loss of local crops, seafood, and meats.
We need healthy oceans to provide restaurants with fresh fish and lobster as well as non polluted fertile soil to grow the fruits and vegetables needed for our favorite exotic dishes.
Seriously … Everyone is Affected
Tourists looking to witness iconic landmarks or even just those wanting a fun and exciting trip depend on conserving resources such as water.
Rome’s Trevi Fountain and your favorite Disney waterpark rides of course depend on the availability of water and we are already beginning to see water restrictions put in place in destinations which limit features such as with fountains in Las Vegas.
Worldwide festivals ultimately depend upon the local environment to supply them with things like food, flowers, and materials that make them what they are. For instance Spain’s La Tomatina wouldn’t be much fun without tomatoes. Pollute our oceans and beaches and there goes surfing or simply lying on the beach.
Florida has recently encountered problems in regards to using fertilizers which made their way into the local sea waters causing severe algae blooms which sent foul smelling masses of material ashore, creating respiratory problems for beachgoers.
This not only affects a tourist’s fun day at the beach but also deters travelers from returning to a destination which in turn affects that destination’s overall tourism economy and the local jobs it provides.
Ecotourism Goes Beyond Nature and Wildlife
Ecotourism goes beyond just the nature and wildlife aspect of a destination. It also applies to the local people. Your ecological impact includes human beings as they too are part of the system that makes up an environment.
Ecotourism is about conservation efforts and minimal impact on cultures as much as it is on the natural environment. It is about recognizing the rights and spiritual beliefs of the local communities we visit and ensuring they have just as much of a positive experience from our travels as we do.
We need to remember we are entering their home and therefore must treat that experience with the respect it warrants. We wouldn’t dare go to our neighbor’s house down the street for a get together and trash their place or disrespect their way of life, so we need to behave in the same way when traveling abroad.
We may not know the foreign locals by name when we visit their land, and because we know we are there just temporarily, many seem to think we can leave our manners at home. But should this continue future travel may be restricted or worse, impossible, due to the negative effects we ourselves have inflicted.
All Travel Has an Impact: Make Yours Positive
It’s naïve to think that traveling abroad won’t impact or change the behavior of the local culture or wildlife. It is bound to happen. Machu Picchu is a prime example; we have seen a beautiful culture replaced by commercialism, and wildlife like the spectacled bear all but disappear.
The goal is not to avoid changing behavior but rather to minimize long lasting negative impacts that will destroy the very reasons we travel to various destinations in the first place.
So What Can You Do?
You don’t have to be a hippie to care about the environment, and care about the impact your travels leave on the world. Or notice that our behavior is interconnected and directly linked to environmental effects. So it’s incredibly important for every type of traveler to think about the way they travel, and adopt an ecotourism mindset.
By choosing eco-certified tour companies, hotels, and airlines that promote and contribute to ecotourism we increase their business and profits, which pushes other companies to follow in their footsteps to stay competitive. Even if profits are the main motivation, if that means saving the environment and protecting species and cultures then it’s a win-win for all.
There are some great websites which offer a wealth of information in regards to listing eco-friendly hotels, airlines, tours, and destinations. Also, those companies who have a policy / strategy on sustainability will usually have tab on their website which outlines their stance.
Tourism presents a strange dichotomy; it allows the means to preserve a culture, and admire an environment but also has the potential to dilute and destroy it. Therefore it’s important to understand the effects that travelling may have, and make sure our choices reflect responsible values and minimal impact.
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