Ecotourism 101: What certifications exist for the ecotourism industry?

With the advent of words such as green, environmentally friendly, sustainable and eco as powerful marketing slogans, it should come as no surprise that many organizations within the tourism industry have adopted these terms to attract customers. There are financially lucrative reasons for marketing hotels, rental cars, and vacation activities in this manner since surveys have indicated that customers are willing to pay a premium for a product when they are aware that an organization is environmentally conscious. Certifications help to alleviate potential greenwashing.

Given this marketing power, in October 2008, an initiative led by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) resulted in the development of a set of 37 voluntary standards that have become known as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. These criteria represent the minimum that any tourism business should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources while ensuring that tourism meets its potential as a tool for poverty alleviation.

In addition to these globally-relevant efforts, various countries have also developed certifications to keep tourism organizations in check as well as consumers informed. We will begin by delineating the process for awarding and retaining the following ecotourism operator certifications:

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