WHAT IS ECOTOURISM?
Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. (Definition by The International Ecotourism Society, 1990)
WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES OF ECOTOURISM?
According to The International Ecotourism Society, Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
- Minimize impact.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
- Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.
WHY IS ECOTOURISM IMPORTANT TO ME?
My interest in ecotourism grew rather organically. The more I traveled and observed and talked to local people, the more aware I became of ecotourism issues. Through my travels, I learned that most tours are run by corporate tour companies who provide tours for the masses, often consisting of bus rides through popular tourist sites or poor communities. Many of these tours provide little opportunity for cultural interaction and sharing, and are mostly viewed by locals as deeply insulting and offensive (how would you like to be peered at from a vehicle window like you’re a zoo animal). I also observed that while global tourism is a multi-million dollar industry, few of those dollars trickle down to poorer communities or local companies, which don’t have the marketing budget to compete with “the big guys”. Lastly, I became aware of issues involving the abuse and/or captivity of wild animals under the guise of entertainment (i.e., swim with dolphins or pet a lion cub). I did not want to contribute to any of these negative aspects of travel so I started to educate myself.
It became important to me that the local communities I visit benefit from my tourism dollars. Thus, I’ve made a personal vow to use only local individuals or tour companies, whenever possible. I’ve also decided to stay away from the big tour groups and only go on small tours that allow me to have personal interaction with local residents. These shared cultural experiences have created some of my best travel memories and have stuck with me just as much as the popular tourist sites. Particularly in poorer communities, I also like to bring items needed by local residents or volunteer organizations (Visit Pack For a Purpose to find global community-based projects). That way, we both benefit from the experience. Finally, I’ve become more conscious about activities involving animals. I now recognize that wild animals do best in their natural habitat and so I try to support conservation efforts or activities which allow me to see them in the wild. By taking these steps, I hope to minimize my travel impact on this beautiful world we live in.
I encourage my fellow travelers to implement at least some ecotourism principles as you plan and go about your travels around the world. It can be as simple as booking a tour with a local individual or company, spending a night with a local family, or packing items in your suitcase to donate to a community project or organization.
In my travels, I’ve used the following individuals and companies, all of which are involved in tours or projects that help their local communities. Feel free to contact and give them your support.
Jolinaiko Eco Tours (Accra): http://joli-ecotours.com/
Alltournative Ecoarchaeological Expeditions (Cancun/Riviera Maya): http://www.alltournative.com/
Imbizo Tours (Soweto, Johannesburg): http://imbizotours.co.za/
Vuvu’s Small Shack Tours (Langa Township, Cape Town): http://township-experience.com/vuvu.html