“Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.”
That is the philosophical foundation of ecotourism – a term coined in the 1990’s by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). You can call it responsible travel, green travel, nature travel or even ethical travel. The idea is to explore the globe in a more sustainable way, conserving the environment while improving the lives of local people.
When you travel, you have an impact on nature and on the people with whom you interact. Ecotourism works to ensure that communities receive a fair share of the revenue that you’re bringing in. When tourism is booming in a particular place, it’s easy for companies or even locals to cut corners and disregard stewardship. Those who seek out responsible travel experiences are interested in shifting this imbalance.
In search of the perfect beach?
We all love to travel to a pristine beach, or discover some place off the beaten path, but these are the exact places that tend to suffer from tourism the most. They don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate an influx of people. Instead, ecotourists might look for accommodation providers in Italy that farm their own food or towns in Argentina with artisan co-ops. They might seek out organisations in India adopting and caring for retired logging elephants, or find parks were the entrance fee goes toward conservation efforts in Kenya.
How you can be an ecotourist
Today, there are more options than ever before when it comes to ecotourism.
- Choose a local tour operator with firsthand knowledge and understanding of the destination. They should have local contacts and pay those contacts directly and fairly. They should also have an understanding of the way that tourism can negatively affect the destination. They’ll have solutions in place to deal with those problems.
- Also, when it comes to a tour operator, make sure that they have basic eco-friendly processes in place. Perhaps they grow their own food, provide additional training for local guides, or partner with community groups.
- Volunteer with an organisation that is working to make a positive impact on a local community. Many provide accommodation and even meals in exchange for your time. This is the perfect way to immerse yourself in a different culture. You might make a difference to people’s lives and have a more positive impact on a place.
- Whenever possible, buy local. Look for, and support, indigenous artists. Spend time in co-ops that provide space for dying forms of art. There is often the opportunity to learn from these artisans.
- If you have the option to tip a local guide, try to give your gift directly to the guide. If you’re able, give back as a way to say thank you. You might travel to a place where people are in need of things that others take for granted. Bring school or medical supplies with you and find an organisation to distribute them for you.
- Travel to places that are establishing reputations as eco-friendly destinations. Countries like Costa Rica in Central America and Slovenia in Europe are two places that often attract eco-travellers. You might also consider Borneo, Peru, Patagonia, New Zealand, Bhutan, Botswana and Zambia.
Do your bit
As with many things, individual impact can feel negligible. These may seem like baby steps instead of a much larger, much needed solution. But it is our own individual actions that collectively build to a tipping point. What we do as individuals impacts others, changing people, and changing the way ‘things are always done.’ As an ecotourist, you have the ability to make a world of difference.
If you’re inspired and want to make your next trip an ecotourism one, get in touch with Mundana and we will point you in the right direction.