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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.

What is Ecotourism and why should I care

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.

Ocean surfing RF

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.

Local community in Peru

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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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

If you enjoy getting social, you can follow their journey on FacebookTwitterYouTubePinterest and Instagram.

    30 Comments

  1. Absolutely love what you’ve put together here Megan. Ecotourism has become such a “trend” lately that we really are moving away from what is really important and what we need to focus on. It’s so true that every we need to think about impact while traveling – I’ve had this topic on my mind a lot lately while “living” in Bali. This island has changed so much, and really not for the better. And no matter what each eco-loving traveler thinks – we have all contributed to it… but on that dark note! There is so much that we can also do to help.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts <3

    • Thanks Emma! Yes, I feel the whole concept is sometimes a bit diluted by the “trend” of ecotourism, and that people are losing sight of what it really should be.

      I haven’t personally been to Bali yet, though I have heard about the negative effects on the island in particular, from tourism. Thailand has some badly affected islands too, which have just been completely wiped out and ruined as a result of the negative effects mass tourism brings.

      Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes so to not repeat the same, and do our best to reverse the effects which have already taken place.

  2. This is a really eye opening article. We have been trying to be more eco-friendly in our travels because of course flying isn’t the most friendly to the Earth. We were looking for something like the straw you linked so we will check it out. I have the Camelback bottle, I love it! Many people do not consider that they need water for Disneyland or other attractions and it all depends on ecotourism.

    • Thanks Natasha – yes absolutely, we haven’t done the earth any favors by inventing massive jet planes – and it’s very easy to fall back on “what can one person do to change things”. But if every individual does their part, we’ll see quite the global change.

      The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is great – definitely check it out :)

  3. Felt great to read this. I have noticed over the years that most people only care about the tag rather than actually doing anything. There are people who won’t even bother to throw plastic everywhere during their eco-trail.

    Also, I think there is no point of having one or two eco-tourism resort in a place if the rest of the people don’t care. Such things need to be implemented throughout the place and there should be measures to make everyone comply.

    • Thanks Jitaditya – yes, it does feel as though ecotourism and “going green” has become somewhat of a trend in recent years, and that people have lost sight of what the concept is really about. I believe the term is “green washing”, when you pretend or present yourself to be ecofriendly but aren’t.

      I agree that there should be community wide involvement in implementing strategies and policies to become ecofriendly. Hopefully we’ll see this pick up as awareness and pressure to preserve and conserve keeps gaining momentum.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Such an important topic, thanks. And you’re right, it affects all of us – not just the environment, but local people as well. For some other travelers who come to our cities, those “local people” are us, right! So if we appreciate our surroundings and would love visitors to tend to leave as less impact as possible, we should do the same when traveling.
    It’s great to see that there is a choice nowadays, it’s easier to be “eco-friendly, so no excuses. :)

    • Absolutely, it’s very much a “do as to others as you would want them to do unto you” situation – we expect tourists to our home town to respect the land and our culture, and us! So we should offer the same respect when we travel overseas.

      I think people forget about the community aspect when they think of ecotourism – forget that people are a big part of the concept as well.

  5. Great article. We definitely need to look at persevering the environment and cultures around the world. I can’t say that I have been pro-active in find eco-friendly hotel and airlines but I do make sure that I try and have my own water bottle, use environmentally friendly soaps etc to cut down landfill and chemicals. If we all make a concise effort plus promoting companies that embrace this whether at home or traveling with culture and the environment we will preserve the earth we know for longer.

    • Thanks Katherine, and absolutely, if everyone makes an individual effort, it will add up to make a giant global effect. Promoting and spending our money on companies that embrance eco values, and incorporate these into their business is a great way to start, and something that every traveler can do :)

  6. I completely agree that ecotourism goes far beyond nature and wildlife…it’s actually the most essential part of any responsible tourism. Any piecemeal approach to ecotourism won’t work as well, it needs to be done completely.

    Also, not just travelers, it’s also the responsibility of everyone attached to the industry. We can, of course, be the advocates for it and help organisations do more….

    • Absolutely – I think ecotourism is the foundation of responsible tourism at it’s core. And I agree that there needs to be a full commitment, as opposed to just doing the right thing here and there, or when you remember to do it.

      I agree that every individual, tourists and locals alike, should be responsible for cleaning up their act and behaving in a more responsible way towards our immediate environment. And obviously advocating and leading by example to encourage others to do more :)

  7. I agree with you a lot. Here in the Philippines, a lot of cities are also trying to educate the people about Ecotourism—- things were prettier when people didn’t know about it. That shouldn’t be the case.

    I hope people knew how to be a responsible traveler. I’m glad that there are many organizations here now who are massively trying their best to do their part too.

    • It’s good to hear that the Philippines is sending such a strong message of ecotourism through their tourism campaigns. It’s sad that the landscapes and habitats were more pristine before people started visiting. I agree that this shouldn’t be the case – it’s a very difficult balance to maintain, but if we’re irresponsible about our presence it can end in tragedy.

      I think the biggest thing we can do to create a world of responsible travelers is to continue advocacy and spreading awareness for the cause. And it’s a great sign to see that large companies are joining the fight too.

  8. Hello Megan! I think it is very important to focus on sustainability and ecology on the trips. There are too many national parks and other places being destroyed tourists who do not care much about the place. Sometimes it is even the local uneducated people who destroy their own country, but yes, much trouble comes from western tourists. You get the point about companies using ecotourism as buzzword and I hope this will change soon.

    • Thats a good point Veronika, that sometimes the damage is caused locally. I do believe that tourists are the main cause of declining environments, but yes, you’re right, sometimes it’s because the local communities aren’t equip with the knowledge, or don’t have the right resources to live and survive otherwise.

      So it’s definitely something we all need to work towards in spreading awareness and implementing practical solutions where required. A big task but I believe we can get there if every individual does their part!

  9. One of the biggest things to consider when thinking about ecotourism is the footprint that long distance flights leave behind. I try to travel by train when I can. Thanks for the additional ideas!

    • Absolutely David – unfortunately for us, being from Australia makes it difficult to travel without utilizing long distance flights, but we do try to travel by train where possible. Europe is great for that!

      Glad you enjoyed the post :)

  10. Ecotourism is vitally important. With so many more people being able to travel these days this means more impact on places visited. I think living in Australia where we have such a sensitive ecosystem in places, we are very aware of the damage that can be caused and the long term effect.

    I am definitely a foodie traveller, but also worry about sustainability etc. Hmm, I think I am a eco-foodie!

    • Glad to hear that you’re thinking about ecotourism and how you can reduce your impact Sara :) I agree – I think this is a new issue because tourism in the past decade has seen such an epic boom. But we need to jump on top of it now before it’s too late and the most fragile ecosystems disappear.

      Eco-foodie can definitely be a group!

  11. Thank you for emphasizing how important it is to minimize our footprint while traveling. I constantly travel to remote islands and the locals would stress the different ways to help them maintain the environment. I’ve been on some eco tours and love what they’re doing for the community and the environment!

    • You’re welcome Cat, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post, and that the communities you have come across have taken an active role in promoting how to help them preserve the environment. Because while there are underlying principles which apply everywhere, different environments, communities and ecosystems will require different approaches, and different considerations. So it’s great to know that locals are connecting with travelers coming through.

      Awesome that you’ve been taking ecotours – I think that as more travelers start making a conscious decision to support companies with eco friendly policies, more and more organizations will change their priorities. Truly believe that we can speak via our wallets and affect global change!

  12. This is a very important topic to tackle, Megan. The travelers and also the locals should be educated about responsible traveling and the effect that we have on nature because even the small things that we do have an impact for sure. This is really worth spreading!

    • Thanks Trisha, I appreciate you helping spread the word!

  13. Hello Meg ! I loved the article. I would like to add that although I agree with you in looking for eco-friendly hotels, unfortunately many hotels use the now so popular label “eco” too easily and to get more attention without really observing an eco friendly practise. that’s sad.

    I love what you said about the impact of tourists on locals and the respect we need to observe towards our hosts. That definitely goes into the ” eco ” way of travelling.
    In my blog I also promote local guides and tours that support local communities instead of big organizations. I believe this goes as well under the same topic.

    Great job!!!!

    • Hi Isabella, thanks for leaving a comment, glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, I totally agree, I see a lot of organizations calling themselves green to jump on the bandwagon of the trend, without actually changing their values and practices to reflect that. I think the best we can do is to educate travelers about what to look for, and call it out if we see it.

      Fabulous to hear that you promote local guides and tours which support the grassroots community – I agree that this fits under the same topic too.

      Happy travels! Keep doing what you do :)

  14. Thanks for sharing these very sensible insights into responsible travel. I love that you highlight how interconnected we are to others around the world, through our behaviour as travellers.

    • You’re welcome, I’m glad that you found the information insightful, here’s to responsible travel experiences!

  15. We should care about sustainable tourism, because it can make quite a big impact on local eco-sytems. We can all start with picking up our trash when returning from the beach. 😊

    • Absolutely – if everyone started doing a little bit, it would cause a ripple effect and have a hugely positive impact :)

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