With the increased availability of cheap transport, in particular cheap air flights to numerous tourist locations around the globe, the impact of the 'act' of tourism is coming under increased scrutiny with respect to its environmental impact
and cultural impact.
The environmental impact of Tourism
Tourism's environmental impact comes in many forms:
- The travel to and from the final destination. The act of traveling consumes resources, so contributing to green house gas emissions.
- The resources consumed at the destination, once you get there. Again the consumption of resources can result in green house gas emissions and localised pollution.
- The resources consumed building the destination. The hotel or place you stay at has an embedded environmental cost associated with it.
- Wear and tear on local attractions and natural features.
Cultural impact of Tourism
Tourism also has a potential cultural impact; in that it can expose a culture to harmful ideas, beliefs or even 'pests' and diseases which don't exist in the local environment.
For instance quite a few remote societies do not have the Western resistance to common diseases, like Chicken Pox - so could prove potentially fatal to them.
Also tourism has the potential to spread 'pests' between countries. Hence why many countries now have very strict regulations on bringing in animals or natural produce into their countries.
Another potential negative impact of tourism is that it could add little wealth into the local economy; i.e. everything is sourced remotely, up to and including the staff! This also adds to the potential environmental impact caused.
What can be done?
Well, we could all stay at home and not bothering going anywhere; but this is not that exciting and also it misses out on an opportunity as an 'informed consumer' to help steer the tourism business towards environmentally better ways of operating; in effect you are voting with your choice and wallet - a very powerful combination!
So what is Ecotourism?
Ecotourism, in its purest form, is defined as:"travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strives to be low impact and (often) small scale. It helps educate the traveler; provides funds for conservation; directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and fosters respect for different cultures and for human rights."
Ecotourism often appeals to ecologically and socially conscious individuals as it focuses on volunteering, personal growth and learning new ways to live on the planet. It usually involves travel to destinations where flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions.
Ecotourism is a conceptual experience, enriching those who delve into researching and understanding the environment around them. It gives an insight into our impact as human beings on the environment and a greater appreciation of our own natural habitats.
Responsible ecotourism includes programs that minimize the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Therefore, an integral part of ecotourism is the promotion of recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation and creation of economic opportunities for the local communities. In effect ecotourism adds more back into the local communities and environment than it takes away.
The strict definition of Ecotourism
In order for a certain type of tourism to be classed as ecotourism it needs to satisfy all the following conditions:
- Conservation of biological diversity and cultural diversity through ecosystem protection.
- Promotion of sustainable use of biodiversity, by providing jobs to local populations.
- Sharing of socio-economic benefits with local communities and indigenous peoples by having their informed consent and participation in the management of ecotourism enterprises.
- Tourism to unspoiled natural resources, with minimal impact on the environment being a primary concern.
- Minimization of tourism's own environmental impact
- Affordability and lack of waste in the form of luxury
- The main attractions being local culture, flora and fauna
The greeningwashing of tourism
Too often normal tourism operations try to get on the green 'bandwagon' by adopting a marketing led 'green approach'; whilst doing the minimum required to keep the image of being green. This is then extended to presenting themselves as being Ecotourism friendly...
Also marketing people try to Green themselves by association, ever seen any of the following terms in literature or advertising?
- Nature tourism,
- Low impact tourism,
- Green tourism,
- Ecologically responsible tourism
if you have chances are this is a form of greenwashing going on. Also Ecotourism is not:
- Underwater hotels,
- Helicopter tours,
- Reef tours,
- Wildlife theme parks
This problem is also not being helped by academics, the media, environmentalists and special interest groups all having slightly different definitions of what Ecotourism really is.
In reality there is only one true definition (to us anyways) and thats the one shown above.
BTW this Greenwashing is really big business now - the Ecotourism sector is growing at around 15% per annum!
How can you ensure its really Ecotourism?
First off, assess the operator or place on the basis of recommendations or research. Have a good look around for them in the media and online. A clear warning sign is a over commercialization of the operation; this either means the original operator 'sold-out' or it is part of a larger group.
Secondly, check in with a genuinely Green tour operator or travel agency, such as Intrepid Travel, Adventure Life, Frontier, and Marine Conservation Society, Peregrine Adventures, World Expeditions, Explore Worldwide and Exodus offer trips catering for the thoughtful traveller
Thirdly, when you have come back from your genuine Eco adventure, tell everybody else about it!