Ecotourism. It’s a term travel marketers love, but what does it really mean?
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:
I have to admit it: last year, my traveling to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to see polar bears in the wild was motivated not only by a 10-year anniversary but by a fear that soon the animals could be gone. I go to see glaciers because I’m afraid we’re losing them. And this coming January, I’m returning to Yellowstone National Park to try to photograph our nation’s wolves before they almost completely disappear in the Lower 48 — again.
You could call me an “extinction tourist.”
I’m far from unique. In fact, today people are traveling in ever-greater numbers to see what they think could quickly vanish from the Earth. While just a few years ago travelers might have endeavored to tick off all seven continents or Africa’s Big Five wildlife species, today there’s a certain “cred” given to those who see the landscapes, animals and plants that are just managing to hang on. And tour providers are tapping into that desire with their marketing messages. “See [fill in your favorite endangered animals] before they’re gone!”
But should tourism companies use threatened species as marketing tools? Given our ability to tune out ads, does that minimize the dire circumstances that these animals and environments are now in and dilute the attention that conservation messages might have been able to muster?
Throughout human history, the sharing and exchange of local food between people of different cultures has cemented social bonds and sealed agreements. Feasts often brought people from far-off places and varying ways of life together.
Today, whether you’re in a friend’s home or visiting a foreign land, partaking of your host’s served meal is considered polite — or, at least, that’s what I have been taught. So, when I recently traveled to Greenland and visited an Inuit community, I happily agreed to taste the traditional foods offered, including raw whale blubber, dried cod and simmered seal stew.
Wanting to share my adventure with friends, I posted a photo of myself eating the uncooked blubber on a social media site. To my surprise, I was met with strong disapproval by an acquaintance who works at an environmental organization.
When traveling, should you indulge in the traditional foods offered, even though eating them may not be “politically correct” in your own country?
If you’re contemplating an African safari, no doubt it’s the extraordinary wildlife that’s top draw. But many safari camps and lodges are highlights in their own right. While most are not for the faint of budget, they are peerless when it comes to enhancing the “trip of a lifetime”!
As more safari operations “go green” by committing to environmental and community sustainability, the selection of alluring eco-minded camps and lodges continues to grow. Here are six that will have you online in a heartbeat to secure your deluxe tent beneath the stars — or at least daydreaming about it.
With a few exceptions, much of the U.S. has been experiencing an unseasonably warm and dry winter. While that may make some people happy, those of us who welcome snow, sweaters, skating and skiing are missing winter’s frosty grip.
If you’re feeling as blah as the brown landscape outside, consider a mid-winter adventure to colder climes. There’s nothing like nature beauteously transformed by an icy white veneer to lift even the most listless spirit. From dog sledding to tracking wolves, sleeping in an ice hotel and watching the Northern Lights, cold-weather travel is all kinds of cool!
There are more tigers in captivity (such as this one) than there are left in the wild. ©John T. Andrews
There are some statistics that you hear that knock your socks off, and you just can’t quite believe them. You think they’re concocted purely to get attention and for shock value. Here’s one I recently came across that fits that category: There are more tigers in American backyards than there are left in the wild throughout the world.
How could that be?! I wondered. After all, the tiger isn’t even indigenous to the United States! It turns out that there is very little regulation on keeping wild tigers here. And because their body parts are prized in Asian black markets for traditional medicines and folk remedies — and because they are popular subjects for photographers and as college mascots — trafficking in and owning tigers becomes a means of making money.
Anyone who has ever watched a brown bear fish, or an elephant wallow in a water hole, or a curious sea lion come face to face with a snorkeler, knows that one of the highlights of eco-travel is close encounters with wildlife in natural settings.
I spent part of the holidays in Los Angeles this year, surrounded by a sea of asphalt and traffic sprawling for hundreds of square miles. Shuttling between relatives and friends on the maze of 14-lane freeways, I soon felt spiritually exhausted by the visual din of billboards, power lines, parking lots, storefronts, neon signs and cars blowing past at 80 mph.
Blue-footed Booby in the Galapagos
How would you like to win a 7-night Galapagos Islands cruise for two aboard an Ecoventura yacht, recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly outfitters in the islands? Imagine anchoring in turquoise bays, zipping ashore in small rafts and lazing on sandy beaches, empty but for colonies of curious sea lions and nonchalant iguanas sunning on the lava shoreline. Blue-footed boobies nest along island trails while albatross and frigate birds soar overhead. The wonders beneath the waves are just as amazing, as you snorkel with penguins and sea turtles.
“There, at the top of that tallest tree,” our guide says, pointing through a maze of vegetation. I catch a flash of red, then a rainbow of feathers, backlit by the sun, as the scarlet macaw takes flight. Its bright plumage is the only contrast against the verdant backdrop of the Amazon rainforest.