Perhaps you’ve heard about ecotourism and wondered what it’s all about. The growing tourism industry is a challenge for the environment, local populations, and their resources. Protecting precious ecosystems, boosting local economies, and enriching cultural awareness are just the beginning of how ecotourism makes a difference in where (and how) we travel. From enjoying a “green” hotel to exploring eco-friendly tourist attractions, you can have the time of your life while still making a positive impact in the world.
What is ecotourism?
According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education."
With the goal of supporting sustainable travel and long-term conservation solutions, basic ecotourism principles include:
- Provide memorable experiences to visitors by raising sensitivity to political, environmental, and social climates
- Respect Indigenous People's rights and beliefs
- Minimize physical, behavioral, social, and psychological impacts
- Create low-impact facilities in design, construction, and operation
- Generate financial benefits for local people and conservation efforts
- Support environmental and cultural awareness
- Provide positive experiences for visitors and hosts
Ecotourism is an ethical way of traveling and has numerous benefits. By pursuing eco-friendly travel, you help to:
Ecotourism focuses on experiences that have a low impact on the natural resources around them. Revenue generated by legitimate operators will go towards preserving resources and protecting the environment.
Build cultural awareness
Ecotourism should foster respect for the communities and people you visit. As you become more immersed in local culture, you’ll come away with an authentic appreciation to share with others.
Provide educational experiences
Ecotours provide educational experiences that are hands-on, giving tourists opportunities to witness different perspectives, learn new skills, and embrace a newfound appreciation for the culture.
Contribute to local economies
Truly eco-friendly locations and tours are locally managed, infusing funds and jobs back into the community.
Ecotourism jobs and volunteerism
Interested in giving back directly to a certain destination? Consider volunteering with some of your time off. VolunteerInternational.org is a good place to start. They list only member organizations that meet strict criteria and adhere to the highest standards. These must include a clear breakdown of fees and expenses, safe and clean volunteer housing, and local field trips beyond the volunteer’s main work responsibilities.
Jobs in the ecotourism field are growing, and incorporate many different areas of work in a broad range of roles. From architects and environmental engineers to wildlife managers and eco-tour guides, green careers are raising awareness around the world.
Volunteering, attending ecotourism conferences, and connecting with others in the field are good first steps to finding out if you are a good fit to jumpstart an ecotourism career. Do your research. Find out the academic requirements and links to organizations offering experience and internships. EcoClub.com offers ecotourism and green jobs around the world, along with a huge amount of information about the field.
Eco-friendly travel experiences can be found all over the world. Some of the top ecotourism destinations include:
Travelers associate Costa Rica with ecotourism because the country has taken intentional steps to preserve its natural beauty. Their popular sea turtle conservation programs draw volunteers from around the world. Almost a quarter rainforest, breathtaking volcanoes and stunning coastlines alive with biodiversity make Costa Rica a popular eco-destination.
Finland and Norway
In Finland and Norway (especially the Norwegian Fjords), tourism is eco-friendly by design. The culture itself lends to living sustainably and in harmony with nature. Their philosophy is that conservation is everyone’s responsibility. With waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, and a deeply rich culture to experience, it’s no wonder they're a pilot destination of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park
The majestic elephant is Thailand’s national animal. In the spirit of rescuing, rehabilitating, and protecting them, this park offers interactive programs where you can help feed and bathe them. With lots of learning opportunities, you can choose to visit for the day or volunteer for several.
Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand’s smallest national park is a coastal paradise. Filled with native wildlife, sandy ocean beaches and lush forest, it’s an adventurer’s dream.
As one of the most famous ecotourism destinations in the world, the Galapagos Islands showcase the world’s most unusual wildlife. Nearly 97% of the island landscape is protected national park, and all tourism providers are required to follow sustainable practices. For some of the best things to do and see, check out U.S. News & World Report’s Galapagos Islands travel guide.
These are just a drop in the ecotourism bucket — and don’t forget that the United States is one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world. From environmentally focused trips and sustainable farming experiences to educational tours and cultural preservation, check out Visit.org. Companies like Greenglobaltravel.com, Responsibletravel.com, and Greenloons.com all specialize in offering sustainable travel adventures.
It doesn’t matter if you’re taking off for an afternoon or vacationing for two glorious weeks; you can make a difference through eco-friendly travel. So jump in, explore all your sustainable options and go green for your next vacation — you’ll be glad you did.
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