The impacts of 'eco-tourism'

| 18th January 2019
Kitasoo Dawn

Kitasoo Dawn

Everyone needs a good vacation. Eco-friendly travel can affect not only how to travel but also where on the planet people travel.

Eco-tourism calls on vacationers to redefine what it means to take a vacation — not only where you go and how you get there, but also what you do while you're there.

The eco-tourism movement has continued to impact where people choose to spend their vacations.

Eco-tourism serves to promote increased environmental awareness, sustainable communities, cultural experiences and environmental preservation and conservation.

Yet the inherent nature of tourism demands that there be developments, which haven't always benefited the environment. Nevertheless, for those planning a sustainable vacation, it's important to keep eco-tourist considerations in mind.

Eco-tourism benefits

With eco-tourism comes curiosity — about both environment and experience. Instead of going to popular tourist destinations like China, Italy, Spain and Germany, vacationers are expanding their searches and destinations.

More destinations mean more opportunities for employment within indigenous populations of lower-income communities and countries. Locals act as guides, experts, demonstrators, merchants and hosts to visiting tourists. Increased traffic means more money funneling directly back into the community along with a higher standard of living.

Community outreach and tourism allow people from all over the world to come into an impoverished community and restore it by providing services and patronage. In one instance, a vacation could mean volunteering, building or serving in an impoverished community. Another impact would come from immersive experiences in the lives of indigenous peoples that sustain their culture and environment.

Eco-tourism also provides cultural literacy. By incorporating local cultural lodging, food, history and activities, communities can improve their welfare as well as educate a wider population.

Plus, taking some press away from the typical tourist destinations means that some pressure is taken off the surrounding environment and ecosystems. The money that results and is saved from releasing the environmental pressures is put back into conservation and preservation efforts.

​Negative developments

With increased tourism comes increased pressure to develop areas and make them more inclusive and resort-like. Building more accommodation, businesses and amenities within these communities and destinations damages and destroys habitats. By damaging the local environment, you increase the pressure on native species.

Increased competition for resources between invading tourist activity and indigenous populations — both locals and wildlife — means wildlife and certain ways of life disappear. In their place, these cultures and environments take on the same features and characteristics of previous popular sites.

Indigenous cultures are distorted to consumer culture to keep tourists coming, which leads to the exploitation of resources and wildlife that's currently destroying destinations like the Bahamas and the Philippines.

Not all eco-tourist destinations are what they appear to be. Some eco-tourists book vacations thinking they're going to have an authentic, sustainable experience when that's not the case.

Even cycling and hiking close to home can have devastating effects on the environment and wildlife. While vacation should be an enjoyable and memorable experience, the environment is not to be exploited for a stellar photo album.

Thankfully, instances of irresponsible excursions such as reckless mountain biking and enclosing wildlife for display and hunting have diminished.

​​​Vacation impact

Eco-tourism calls on vacationers to redefine what it means to take a vacation — not only where you go and how you get there, but also what you do while you're there.

This strategy affects how people choose where to stay. With home-sharing sites like Airbnb growing more popular with five million listings worldwide, many people are opting for a more cost-effective, authentic experience for their vacations. (Airbnb has itself been criticised because of its impact on local communities and economies).

There's also been an increase in the demand for energy-efficient hotels and resorts that benefit the local cultures as well as the environment. Food is something that everyone should consider as well. Trying the local dishes and delicacies is part of every vacation, and you're supporting the local farmers when you buy from local vendors.

With immersion in the homes and lifestyles of the cultures surrounding you, you can grow to appreciate them and the environment more. It also makes you more curious about what else is out there. With local guides, you'll realise how many activities are available that wouldn't be found in a resort.

Eco-tourism is often close to home too. A study of 160 countries found that tourism accounts for eight percent of the world's carbon emissions and is increasing each year. If you're worried about the effects of your traveling, consider a low-carbon vacation, which means forgoing the standard airfare travel and road trip in favor of one closer to your own backyard. Instead of staying at a hotel, it can mean camping, climbing, hiking, backpacking or biking.

Eco-destinations

If you already know what you're looking for, go somewhere that's likely to give you the right experience. Here are some common goals for traveling as well as corresponding destinations:

  • For the community and culture: Cambodia, India, Kenya and Ethiopia
  • For the conservationist efforts: South Africa, Belize, Malawi and Thailand
  • For the outdoors: Peru, Argentina and the United States
  • For the history: Japan, Jordan, Ethiopia and Vietnam
  • For the wildlife: Finland, Canada, the Azores, India, Borneo and Uganda

Eco-Tourism Tips

For the best experience with eco-tourism, consider the following tips:

  • Do your research: When it comes to taking a sustainable vacation, make sure all the details are spelled out. Do some research into the company you're staying with, the excursions you'd like to go on and the places you're visiting.
  • Avoid taking more than you need: Whether you're going abroad or just camping on a local mountain, a light suitcase or backpack will complement a high sense of adventure. When you're packing for a hike or a flight, remember to keep it quick, easy and light, including the clothes you wear, the tools you use and the food you eat.
  • Always keep the environment in mind: As long as you're keeping the health of the environment in mind when you plan your vacation, you'll be doing your part as a responsible traveler.

Eco-tourism has had an impact on the way people think about leisure and how they feel about vacation. Fun doesn't have to be sacrificed for sustainability and a greener planet. In fact, these lifestyles open up more opportunities to see the world and make every vacation an adventure.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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