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23 November 2018
What is ecotourism all about and why you should consider it as a way of travelling?
“One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” (Henry Miller, a 20th century American writer).
Travelling is exciting - new experiences open up new horizons and sometimes make such an impact that entirely changes the way the traveller thinks about the world. It can be the best way to eliminate “prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” as Mark Twain put it. But there is a catch!
Have you ever thought about the carbon footprint you leave behind when you travel? And we are not only talking about the plane you board to reach your destination. We are talking about your activities when you are there. Do you treat the environment, local culture and people with respect? Do you somehow contribute to the local community, engaging in activities that help reduce your carbon footprint? Do you choose businesses, like hotels and restaurants, that are sustainable? Do you generate financial benefits for local people? All these details are not actually details - they can make a big difference for the local community you are visiting. And they are the essence of ecotourism.
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education" (TIES, 2015). Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.
The environmentally friendly or sustainable travel is becoming a trend - over the last three years, 60 per cent of U.S. travellers reported taking a "sustainable" trip. And, as more people are becoming environmentally aware, the trend has only one way to go: up. We talked with a few people that actively practice ecotourism to pick their brains about this interesting topic. Their input can be the beacon to guide us through the ecotourism concept and help us understand in more depth- this complex, yet so important for the world, matter.
James Edward Mills is a freelance journalist who specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living. He has worked in the outdoor industry since 1989 as a guide, outfitter, independent sales representative, writer, and photographer. He is the author of the new book “The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors” and the co-writer/co-producer of the documentary film An American Ascent.
Travel is the best way I can imagine to become fully engaged in the world at large. For me that means tapping into every aspect of the communities and cultures I visit. Ecotourism is an investment in both the ecology and the economy of travel destinations. As an avid outdoors person I especially like to explore regional parks, beaches and rivers. On these natural landscapes, I can usually connect with local growers of produce and protein for wonderful meals as well as hiking trails and paddling streams. By seeking out the local foods and attractions that contribute to the livelihoods of area residents I make every visit an adventure.
By getting directly involved in the food culture and recreational activities of a given location you can more easily discover how people there truly live. Getting a ground-level view of a community from its natural resources helps to avoid the pretences of luxury and opulence. Ecotourism offers travellers a more clear understanding of local customs and traditions that area residents use to navigate their environment. That just makes for a more worthwhile experience and an opportunity for self-realization and personal growth.
Always find a local guide. Even though a lot of information can be found online or in travel books there is nothing better than first-hand experience. Whether you hire a professional or make friends with someone who’s familiar with the area that bit of personal knowledge can go a long way toward a pleasant trip. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are a good place to start building relationships before venturing out. There is an unlimited number of groups you can join that are dedicated to travel in general or specific locales. I suggest getting several recommendations on places to visit and things to see in advance. Make a list. Do some research. And challenge your expectations.
Alesha (Lesh) and Jarryd (Jazza), are a couple of young Australians who are addicted to adventure travel. They have been exploring the world together for over 9 years, and their goal is to bring their NOMADasaurus concept of promoting sustainable, long-term adventure travel with them across the globe, using photography, journalism and video as their tools for storytelling.
To us, ecotourism is the act of travelling the world with an awareness of environmental impacts and focusing on community-based tourism. We all have the ability to positively, and negatively, affect the places that we visit, and it's important to take a stand on the issues that we care about so we leave the world in a better place for future generations.
We've seen firsthand the kinds of tragic implications over-tourism and careless acts can have on the planet, and we want to make sure that our own footprint is completely minimised. It's not just for the environment, but also for the local people we meet on the way. Our actions directly affect the next people's experiences when they travel through a certain destination, but more so it can have horrible implications for locals. We want to be a part of the solution, not the problem.
Minimise your environmental impact by carrying reusable water bottles and refill them rather than always buying plastic bottles, bring your own cloth bags and say no to plastic bags, have a KeepCup for coffee instead of taking disposable cups, take public transport, cycle or walk rather than taking taxis everywhere, etc. On a community level stay in locally-owned guesthouses and hotels, eat in local restaurants and always respect the local customs and cultures.
National Geographic Traveler of the Year, Shannon is behind Grassroots Volunteering, the world's largest database of social enterprises and independent volunteer opportunities. The website empowers travellers to travellers sustainably by connecting to causes and communities in the places they travel.
W. ALittleAdrift.com & GrassrootsVolunteering.org
Ecotourism represents an opportunity for travellers to essentially vote with their dollars for sustainable development in the places they visit. Masse tourism can stress natural environments, and even well developed cities (like Barcelona, Venice, and others). But when travelers prioritize sustainable travel choices—ie, using ecotourism options to fund projects ensuring the longevity of places, ecosystems, and cultures—they become a part of the solutions. Ecotourism lays a foundation for travelers to respectfully interact with the environment and spend money ensuring those locations will be there for decades to come.
You don't need to make elaborate changes to your trip to see positive changes, start with the small, micro decisions that you're undertaking already when you travel—find local lodging, restaurants, or tours that are committed to sustainability. It's these smaller decisions that truly add up to bigger change on the road.
Having this valuable input by eco-travelers one can understand that ecotourism cannot be discarded as something irrelevant. In an era that traveling is a matter of lifestyle and is affordable for so many people around the world, it is more timely than ever. Ecotourism does not only offer alternative traveling experiences of the utmost value, it also helps you make eco-conscious choices that have a real impact - eventually making you feel better with yourself. So, just go try it!
Useful link: International Ecotourism Society (TIES).
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