Why Eco-tourism Is Increasing In Popularity
Ecotourism has been increasing in popularity since the 1980’s by about 10% annually because more and more governments are encouraging it. That’s because people interested in ecotourism spend a lot of money. For example, one 10-day all-inclusive eco tour cost upwards of $11,000. This means that governments are benefiting from the money being spent by ecotourists.
Social media is another factor aiding in the popularity of ecotourism. When people post images from eco-tourism locations, it elevates interest in those areas making it a tourist destination.
Another factor is international agreements like the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Paris Agreement has the goal of limiting global warming and shrinking carbon footprints.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are closer to the goals of eco-tourism. There are 17 goals total. And climate is definitely one of them.
However, there are two goals in particular that directly relate to eco-tourism:
- Life Below Water
- Life on Land
Let’s look at these two goals and see how they relate to the increase in eco-tourism.
Life Below Water – Eco Tourism
This goal according to the United Nations is “to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources”.
Remember, part of the attraction to eco-tourism is education.
According to this same U.N. document, the oceans have “absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system”. The end result of that is underwater ecosystems like coral reefs are being destroyed.
That’s why some eco tours have been created to protect coral reefs while allowing humans to enjoy the wonders that are coral reefs.
One example of that is the Cancun Underwater Museum of Art. Artists and sculptors have deliberately sunk their works to the bottom of the sea floor (known as “biomass”). It provides a place for coral to grow.
This gives tourist a place to safely explore the wonders of coral reefs without damaging natural coral reefs. The money generated by the museum goes toward creating more of these environments for “the positive impact on the ecosystems with an educational knowledge”.
The museum continues by saying the money obtained by donations and visits to the underwater museum “inspire and provoke social awareness towards the conservation of natural environments and ecosystems”.
Since going on an ecotour requires being in the natural environment, it might seem counterproductive to go on an ecotour. However, the opposite is true. You can actually contribute to the protection of the seas by choosing an eco-vacation. The increased knowledge and funding contribute to the protection of the seas.
Life on Land – Eco-tourism
Life under water tends to get the bulk of the attention when it comes to eco-tourism. But life on land also falls under the eco-tourism umbrella.
The U.N.’s goal for life on land is as follows:
“To sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity.”United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
What that means in layman’s terms is by protecting the forests, it will help keep plant and animal life from going extinct. And it will prevent areas from turning into deserts.
How can eco-tourism help in this regard?
Eco tourism that is done responsibly helps protect the wildlife and vegetation that live in those areas. And because everything on earth is interconnected, protecting these protected areas helps humanity as a whole.
Again, we can’t talk about the benefits of ecotourism without bringing money into the equation.
By taking ecotours on land, the fees associated with entry to these environments goes toward supporting a healthy ecosystem. One place that is an example of this is Isla Contoy in Mexico.
The island is just 5 miles long. Yet the entire island is a protected Mexican national park. In fact, it’s so protected, only 200 people max are allowed on the island.
For eco tourist visiting Isla Contoy, you’ll enjoy seeing a variety of turtles, manta rays, and spiny lobsters. There are also 152 registered species of birds including brown pelicans and frigate birds (also known as “man o war”) you can take in during your visit.
While your’re still in Mexico, you could drop in on Isla Holbox.
Isla Holbox is so committed to the protection of the environment that no cars are allowed on the island. The only way to get around are on mopeds and golf carts.
Isla Holbox rewards you twice. While the island itself is committed to being eco-friendly, part of the reason people take eco tours there is for the whale sharks.
Between June and September, you can view whale sharks as they come into the area. If you’re into scuba diving, you can even swim with them.
This is something everyone has heard about. Another way to say “climate action” is “climate change”.
We hear about climate change and what we can do locally to help turn the tide on climate change. But how does eco-tourism fit into this?
The U.N. Sustainable Goals says that to solve this problem “the world must transform its energy, industry, transport, food, agriculture and forestry systems to ensure we can limit global temperature rise”.
There’s nothing you as an individual tourist can do to install solar panels, lower greenhouse gas emissions or any of the other undertakings the U.N. Sustainable Goals or the Paris Agreement recommends.
However, when choosing a destination or type of vacation, you can choose to book one that takes active steps to protect the climate.
At this stage, there is no country or company that has completely achieved being carbon neutral. So here are some things we think you should be on the lookout for when choosing a destination or mode of travel to your vacation:
- Is the food you eat at your destination locally sourced?
- How committed is the destination/organization to reusable products?
- Is the organization/destination committed to recycling?
- Does your desired vacation choice have systems installed to conserve water?
- How does it view and deal with waste?
How Does Ecotourism Help the Environment?
Ecotourism helps the environment because the money spent to enter parks and waters is used for research and education. In fact, ecotourism accomplishes two things at one time.
First, it generates money for initiatives to lower the carbon footprint.
The second benefit is that the tours educate the visitors on why protecting the environment is important.
If a definition if ecotourism had to be provided, the simplest way to describe it would be: any tourism to natural environments that has the specific goal of educating the traveler on protecting the environment.
That means you don’t have to go to the Galapagos Islands to enjoy an eco-tour. Nor does it mean you have to spend on the higher end of the price spectrum to access an eco-tour.
Some cruise lines including Princess Cruises offer eco tours as part of their excursion packages. For those that enjoy staying on land, there are resorts in close proximity to areas to enjoy eco tours.
How Is Ecotourism Different to Normal Tourism?
The difference between ecotourism and traditional tourism is that ecotourism is done with the intent on learning about the natural environment and enjoying it in a responsible manner. Traditional tourism focuses on sightseeing and exploring things away from one’s home.
To be fair, one could argue that there is no difference between traditional tourism and ecotourism. After all, on an ecotour, does not one want to explore things that he or she doesn’t find around their home and sightsee? So, what’s the difference?
One of the features of eco-tourism is that groups are usually smaller. That’s because these (responsible) tours are trying to make as minimal an impact on the ecology as possible.
Traditional tourism, on the other hand, isn’t concerned about the impact tourist make. In fact, the goal is usually the opposite of eco-tourism. Get as many people as possible to pass through a tourist area as it can handle. Why?
The goal is money.
‘Isn’t that the goal of an eco-tour?’ one might ask.
It is. The answer doesn’t lie in “what” is generated as much as “why” it’s generated.
A portion of the money generated from eco tours goes into efforts designed to protect the environment. Normal tourism doesn’t have such lofty goals. It’s strictly to bring in as large a haul as possible.
This is why you see news reports of areas wanting to limit or completely stop tourism in a particular community. And there’s a term for it.
For example, in 2018 Amsterdam was projected to receive nearly 20 million visitors. That’s a lot of people for a country that only has less a population of less than 1 million.
Another example is the temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
According to a report by Cande Nast Traveler, the influx of visitors to the temple is hurting the ruins. The surrounding area is getting built up to address the increased number of tourists, causing a shortage of groundwater.
That might not sound like a big deal. But Angkor Wat was built in an area that has seasonal flooding. The architects designed the temple to handle the varying water levels. If there is a shortage of groundwater, it could have an impact on the structural integrity of the site.
Factor in the behavior of some of these tourists and you can see why Amsterdam is looking to curb traditional tourism.
We could list other examples, but you get the point. Traditional tourism has as its goal to show you something different. Yet it doesn’t necessarily take into consideration the impact all those visitors will have on the surrounding area.
Ecotourism’s goal is specifically to educate visitors while at the same time showing them something, they wouldn’t see every day.
How Can Ecotourism Help Local Communities?
Ecotourism helps local communities because the local inhabitants are usually the tour guides. Locals also supply meals tourists enjoy while visiting their area. Hence, there is an economic benefit to local communities because of ecotourism.
According to a post by SFGate, a 2003 study done in Costa Rica showed that ecotourism not only boosted the local economy, but the local people stopped cutting down trees because they were now too busy.
This is exactly what ecotourism is supposed to do when done responsibly.
That same post acknowledges that sometimes the local success of ecotourism can encourage development of the area. Which would, in turn, zero out all the gains that ecotourism brought to the region.
This is why you’ve heard us repeatedly use the expression “responsible ecotourism”.
We all know that if success is found doing something, everybody wants in on the party. The unfortunate thing in ecotourism is that not everyone involved in this type of tourism is interested in conservation.
So, if meeting the goals of ecotourism is important to you, make sure your destination and tour guide shares the same goals.
One quick test you can give is to ask what you will learn about during your tour. If the answer is slow coming or it doesn’t seem authentic, you might want to investigate a little further.
Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism
When we talk about sustainable ecotourism, we’re referring to the ability to continue to promote tourism without negatively impacting the environment or the people who live there. Locals should be able to benefit from the economics that come from ecotourism.
And it’s not just for the here and now. Future generations should be able to support themselves. It would also improve the quality of life for the local inhabitants.
Additionally, food, water, jobs, infrastructure – everything necessary to ensure a basic quality of life while maintaining the health and integrity of the ecology is necessary for sustainable ecotourism.
There is also the idea of limiting technology in order to meet the present and future needs of the environment.
As you can see, this is not an easy subject to tackle. On the one hand, there is the economy. On the other are the people who live in the area.
How much technology should be brought in? In this modern world, technology is a must. Yet can it be implemented without having a negative impact on the environment? And how will limiting technology affect the quality of life for those living there?
Where You Can Stay to Enjoy Ecotourism
There are so many places around the world to experience on an ecotour. Here’s our recommended places to stay near ecotours that we think will help you plan your vacation.
This list is not exhaustive and will keep growing. So check back to see what resorts and regions we’ve added.
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