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Ecotourism 101: What is ecotourism?

Over the last two decades, the term ecotourism has been manipulated in so many different ways, it is no wonder that there is confusion about exactly what is ecotourism.  As evidenced by the video below, ecotourism is the intersection of visiting a natural or wildlife habitat that maximizes the host destination’s economic and social objectives while minimizing the environmental damage caused by the vacationer’s presence.

One of the reasons that there is no globally agreed upon definition of ecotourism is that there are different interpretations of what constitutes a natural or wildlife habitat, what characterizes local prosperity, and what amounts to environmental degradation.

In North America, ecotourism has been heavily marketed and related to adventure travel where tourists are enticed to visit pristine wildlife areas across the globe so that they can, for example, go kayaking or ride a zip-line.

Alternatively, in Europe, vacationers view ecotourism as a way to minimize their carbon footprint entirely by first traveling within Europe by train, for example, and then staying in rural areas where they can go hiking or camping. Final,ly within Africa and South America, there is an entirely different approach toward ecotourism where sightseers are encouraged to visit scenic wildlife areas in order to help alleviate the host destination’s economic hardships while preserving local heritage and traditions.

Nevertheless, while the debate continues, the principles of ecotourism are that it:

  1. Supports the conservation of natural areas and wildlife
  2. Minimizes air and water pollution as well as tourist waste
  3. Offers safe and enriching or educational visitor experiences
  4. Respects the cultural tradition of the host destination
  5. Maintains and enhances the landscape so as to avoid physical or environmental degradation
  6. Maximizes opportunities for local prosperity for the host destination in the form of long-term tourism viability, local management control, quality employment, local retention of visitor spending, and fair distribution of economic and social benefits, and
  7. Efficiently uses scarce or non-renewable resources.

For additional information about ecotourism, explore The International Ecotourism Society or Global Ecotourism Network websites.

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