Ecotourism involves more than just exploring nature or viewing wildlife, which on its own does not always contribute to the welfare of a place and its inhabitants. Indeed, some destinations, such as the Galapagos Islands, are at risk of being ‘loved too much.’
At its heart, ecotourism involves “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” according to the International Ecotourism Society.
With this in mind, consider whether your travel plans include the following principles and practices that are central to ecotourism that makes a positive difference:
- Minimize impact on places, natural resources and indigenous communities
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
- Provide direct benefits for conservation
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate
When choosing destinations, accommodations and tour operators, consider which ones work to protect the environment and benefit local cultures and communities.
5 steps for planning an eco-friendly vacation
Making informed choices before and during your trip is the single most important thing you can do to become a responsible traveler. With a little planning, you can improve the quality of your trip while making a real difference to the people and places you visit.
- Search the web: Look for online resource sites specializing in responsible travel, ecotourism or sustainable tourism. Search these terms, or other variants, and surf toward helpful information sources.
- Consult guidebooks: Choose guidebooks with information on your destination’s environmental, social and political issues, and read before booking. Guidebooks vary in quality, even within a series, but Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Moon are among the best
- Make contact: Call or email tour operators that have first-hand knowledge of the place you are considering visiting. Check the websites of any tour operator or accommodation you are considering to see how their practices stack up against environmentally and culturally sustaining principles. Choose companies that are leaders in sustainable tourism, such as Natural Habitat Adventures.
- Ask questions: Let tour operators/hotels know that you are a responsible consumer. Before you book, ask about their social and environmental policies. For instance: What is your environmental policy? What percentage of your employees are local citizens? Do you support any projects to benefit the local community?
- Choose wisely: Do the businesses you’re considering possess any special eco-certification or recognition? Do they have eco-label ratings, or have they won eco-awards?
When you keep these concerns in mind as you plan, you can rest comfortably knowing that your travel enhances environmental and social benefits.
Your choices can help provide needed income to support conservation in a local economy where natural resources are strained. The activities you choose can contribute to conserving the natural and cultural heritage of the place you are visiting. And when you select eco-conscious forms of transportation and accommodation, you can combat tourism’s impact on climate change by using alternative or non-motorized transport options and energy-efficient operations that utilize reduced- or zero-emission practices.
Here’s to mindful traveling,