WHAT IS ECOTOURISM?
Ecotourism became a buzz word in 1990s with the first visible signs of climate change. Many terms are used interchangeably with ecotourism, like nature tourism, alternative tourism, ethical tourism, sustainable tourism or green tourism. As consumers became more environmentally conscious and started to prefer low impact products, green became gold for business.
Although “green” definition is clear for most products, for tourism, travelers usually don’t know the difference of their choice from the others, their impact on the environment and the host communities. The difference is extremely important though. Some academics challenge the assumption that alternative tourism will have fewer negative environmental and socio-cultural impacts than mass tourism and argue that without control and responsibility, it is inevitable for these fragile destinations to quickly exceed capacity limits and cause degradation, decline and change in both environmental aspects and the human elements. Travelers might unknowingly contribute to an unsustainable and uncontrolled tourism development while they make bookings with “Eco-resorts” that use the term without adhering to the sustainability principles.
In an effort to bring some clarity to these confusing concepts, we prepared a series of posts that will help you understand what sustainable tourism development is, what to look for in eco-resorts and eco-destinations and how to be a responsible tourist, so you can make informed choices to minimize your negative impact. This first article aims to explain the concepts of sustainable tourism and ecotourism.
The famous Native American saying is probably one of the best explanations on sustainability; “We didn’t inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrowed it from our children”. The Brundtland Report defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Ecotourism, which is a type of sustainable tourism, is usually conducted in largely untouched natural areas, which tend to be both environmentally and socially sensitive, so the impacts can be even greater for good or bad. Ecotourism, targets to achieve positive impacts through special focus on conservation, benefits for host communities and education of the visitors.
Sustainability has three dimensions; environmental, social and cultural, and economic. Environmental dimension requires the companies to minimize damage while improving the environment through conservation. Social and cultural dimension ensures that the business activity doesn’t harm the social structure and culture of the host community. Economic dimension requires the company to continue contributing to the economic well-being of the local community rather than providing short term gains in addition to having a profitable business so the company can continue its support to the environmental and social aspects. This dimension requires a good, responsible business practice that benefits not only its owners and employees but also the neighbours, environment and society.
These sustainability dimensions, which are also called “triple bottom line”, are extremely important for tourism establishments in extraordinary natural locations. Hotels, resorts, liveaboards and other companies operating in these areas should be hiring people from local communities, ensure that they protect the local culture while improving the livelihoods, have a solid action plan to protect the ecosystems and biodiversity and educate their guests about the importance of the ecosystem they operate in.
To expect that ecotourism will not have concomitant and widespread ecological transformation of society and environment is naive. A symbiotic relationship between nature and tourism industry can develop as long as interests of the industry don’t override the interest of the nature. In developing countries where the interest of nature is usually not protected by the state, it is the consumers’ responsibility to make conscious choices and push the industry for sustainable operating practices.
In the following post, we’ll be briefly looking at criteria travelers should be asking for in ecoresorts, hoping that it will provide some guidance in making informed choices. Stay tuned.