Ecotravel/Ecotourism ecotourism

Published on January 29th, 2017 | by Carolyn Fortuna


Voting with your Dollars: Sustainable Ecotourism

Sustainable ecotourism can really enhance public awareness about the effects that tourism has on the environment, economics, and society. Tourism has always created work and commercial opportunities, but nature-based, sustainable ecotourism moves a fun and relaxing getaway into a new realm. Here, tourists enjoy an educational and adventurous experience while visiting complex and fascinating ecosystems and their associated cultures and traditions. When thought of as a market-based conservation strategy, sustainable tourism helps people to gain the tools to respect the environment, biodiversity, and cultural resources of their visiting destination.

According to the MarineBio Conservation Society, good sustainable ecotourism should ideally support criteria such as:

  • Conservation of biological and cultural diversity
  • Sustainable use of ecological resources
  • Support for local economies through increased local revenue, jobs for local populations, and use of local supplies and services
  • Community empowerment by sharing participation in management local ecotourism activities
  • Increased environmental and cultural awareness
  • Minimal environmental tourist industry impact on local resources


There are many organizations that advocate for sustainable ecotourism. Through research and outreach that inspire action, the Worldwatch Institute works to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world that meets human needs. The Institute’s top mission objectives are universal access to renewable energy and nutritious food, expansion of environmentally sound jobs and development, transformation of cultures from consumerism to sustainability, and an early end to population growth through healthy and intentional childbearing.

“Some travel companies try to be sustainable, while others ignore the idea, and from the traveler side, demand and awareness is soft,” said Randy Durband, the chief executive of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a nonprofit accreditation group for sustainable travel based in Washington. It represents a diverse and global membership, including UN agencies, leading travel companies, hotels, country tourism boards, tour operators, individuals and communities – all striving to achieve best practices in sustainable tourism.  Their staff and volunteers work from all six populated continents.

A rapid increase of tourists is exactly why sustainable tourism needs attention now, said Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of the World Tourism Organization at the United Nations. “The impact of tourism on the world can be negative or positive, and our goal is to see to it that the travel industry is a force for good,” he said. The UN has declared 2017 as the International Year for Sustainable Tourism. In doing so, the UN acknowledges how ecologically-minded tourism helps economic development, promotes awareness about world heritage, and reinforces global peace.

Sustainable ecotourism helps with economic development

Sustainable ecotourists often choose an environmentally certified hotel and menus with local food in organic restaurants. When they are on site, they prefer to move on foot, by bike, or by public transport. In general, ecotourists lean toward budget travel. American ecotourists spend $66 per day on travel outside the U.S., compared with $88 for Americans engaging in traditional travel options, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. To be considered a sustainable ecotourist destination, companies try to meet the 37 voluntary standards that make up the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, including employing local residents, minimizing disruption to natural ecosystems, and protecting wildlife. These measures were adopted in 2008 by the World Conservation Congress as part of an initiative led by groups including the Rainforest Alliance, the U.N. Environment Program, and the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ecotourism by providing guidelines and standards, training, technical assistance, and educational resources. TIES’ global network of ecotourism professionals and travelers is leading the efforts to make tourism a viable tool for conservation, protection of bio-cultural diversity, and sustainable community development. As a global source of knowledge and advocacy in ecotourism, TIES offers practical educational tools and promotes capacity building opportunities for professionals.

Certainly, as well, the private sector has an important role to play in local socio-economic development around sustainable ecotourism in terms of employment creation, skills training and development, the payment of lease fees, and philanthropic development projects. Tour operators and resource management agencies must learn enough about the ecosystems they visit to understand the need for restrictions and limits. Any for-profit sustainable tourism business must appreciate the constraints inherent in envirocentric tourism, for example. Even national park stewards must develop clear criteria for setting the limits of acceptable change for each ecosystem.

Sustainable ecotourism enhances awareness about world heritage

Some companies at the forefront of ecotourism are designing trips that introduce visitors to native tribes, donate a portion of trip profits to conservation groups, or serve locally sourced organic meals. They inform tourists about what’s needed to sustain the environment they’re visiting and also help local populations understand the importance and value of their home. Ecotourism can help local economies by generating revenue and jobs, which further encourages the local population to preserve its environment. A good ecotourism operation will strive to support the community and encourage travelers to be culturally sensitive by training and employing local people and by purchasing local supplies and services to further stimulate the economy.

When ecotourism takes on a preservation/conservation focus, economic benefits from ecotourism provide incentives for people to alter their livelihoods and change their uses of local natural resources. For example, one research study indicated that, though employment led to a general decline in farming and hunting, new income generated through ecotourism enabled greater market consumption and expansion of production. Ecotourism also prompted sentiments among the local community that could not be easily measured in economic analyses alone, including willingness to be involved in ecotourism work. These findings are a reflection of the fact that ecotourism is not merely an economic tool for conservation but also the cause of new values and social relations. (SourceThe Economic Promise of Ecotourism for Conservation, Amanda Stronza, Journal Of Ecotourism Vol. 6 , Iss. 3, 2007)

Destination Stewardship Center (DSC) is an offshoot of the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations. Its founder, NatGeo editor Jonathan Tourtellot coined the term “geotourism,“ or tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents. By supporting wisely managed tourism and enlightened destination stewardship, DSC focuses on the ways in which the travel industry can either help or harm a given destination. Its website offers news about intriguing places around the world, resources designed to help destinations improve, and sites for “Geotravelers” interested in traveling more responsibly and sustainably.

Responsible Travel, Small Group Cycling: By joining a group of like-minded cyclists, it takes the pressure off the need to organize a cycling trip. All someone has to do is cycle and the rest is all planned by RT. Small group cycling vacations cater not only for people who are happier cycling in numbers but those who really want a shortcut to the cultural and natural highlights of a cycling destination. And cycling tour companies like RT are experts at knowing all the best local information, too.

Sustainable ecotourism can reinforce global peace

Ecotourism can also help foster a sense of environmental stewardship by encouraging travelers to be mindful of wasting resources and polluting the environment. Ecotourism strengthens household economies and improves attitude of people towards conservation efforts, so that ecotourism business entrepreneurs enjoy better living conditions, nourish positive attitudes towards the sustainable ecotourism business, and feel politically empowered. One study indicated that ecotourism generates economic welfare by positively and significantly affecting different components of expenditures in the budget of a household. Extension of activities related to local culture, festival, and other outdoor activities can diversify a family’s livelihood, and anytime there is stability and happiness at home, the propensity for violence around the globe decreases. (Does ecotourism affect economic welfare? Evidence from Kaziranga National Park, India, Daisy Das and Iftikhar Hussain, Journal Of Ecotourism Vol. 15 , Iss. 3,2016)

WWOOF is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community. As a volunteer (or WWOOFer), guests live alongside their hosts, helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer. Host farms open their homes to receive visitors from their own countries or abroad who want to connect with the land and support the organic movement. WWOOF specializes in linking people who are passionate about healthy food, healthy living, and a healthy planet.

Ethical Traveler, a project of San Francisco’s Earth Island Institute, recognizes the untapped political activism of travelers. Its founder, Jeff Greenwald wondered if there was some way to combine travelers’ voices in order to promote human rights and social change. “We can and should exert pressure on those countries to do the right thing with the environment, social welfare, and how they use the resources we, as travelers, are bringing in.” The organization is best-known for its annual report on the World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations, which weighs the merit of each country based on factors such as Environmental Protection, Social Welfare and Human Rights.


Hotels, cruise ships, airlines, safaris, and luxury tour companies are playing catch-up with the idea of sustainable ecotourism. Businesses will follow what their customers want, though, so the challenge of ecotourism is dependent upon the traveling public. Through endorsing with dollars and pressuring with final selections, the traveler can change the manner in which the travel industry treats natural places and local cultures. It all starts with being an informed traveler and knowing how to slow down, spend more time studying the natural terrain, and learn about one site deeply and intimately. This approach increases personal enjoyment, decreases associated travel costs, and contributes less carbon and ozone to global climate change.

It really comes down to voting with your money when you consider travel destinations. Green is the way to go.

Photo credit: dorameulman via / CC BY


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About the Author

Carolyn writes from her home in RI, where she advocates with her lake association for chemical-free solutions to eradicate invasive species. She’s an organic gardener, nature lover, and vegetarian (no red meat since 1980) who draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+

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