Ecotourism: The good, the bad and the environmentally ludicrous

(Pippin Lee)

Ecotourism Group ENVS 1200
It’s almost impossible not to come across the overused prefix “eco” when shopping at a department store or mall.
Ecotourism, along with ecotravel and ecohotels, fit perfectly with the seemingly healthy new trend of saving the planet, and it seems to be on the rise. Ecotourism is probably a word you have come across while searching for travel destinations or adventure tours, but it’s really only different from regular tourism in that it’s got that simple prefix in the name.
Words are powerful, though, and a debate is rising over “ecotourism.” The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) define it as “responsible travel to natural areas, which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people.” Ecotourism has many synonyms – like green travel, ecotravel and nature tourism – but they all promote visiting a beautiful natural environment.
Nowadays, an ecotour can simply be a tour centering on flora or fauna; these are offered worldwide. Many travel companies advertise these tours using a lot of greenwashing, creating a sense of eco-friendliness while overlooking other issues, something typical of marketing companies.

(Pippin Lee)

“Greenwashing” is basically where the deception behind the “eco” comes into play – it’s a way to lure in consumers. But how are consumers supposed to know the difference between a real ecotour and a greenwashing operation? Marketing strategies like these make it hard to trust a company’s products and services, and the only way to find out for sure is to do the research.
Remember when Apples and BlackBerries were just fruits? Now, green nature is slowly fading, and people travel to remote places to find some time to relax without hearing a phone ring or a car honk. This is where ecotourism plays a big role; it strolls into the tourism industry as the good guy who not only gives you a vacation, but makes you feel good about doing some justice for the environment and people at your destination.
Ecotourism should minimize impact by using recycled materials, renewable sources and minimal environmental tampering when constructing infrastructures for tourists. The tourism industry has over 100 certification programs to evaluate and award hotels that practice environmental responsibility. Most legitimate ecotourism affiliates work together with various conservation organizations to help wildlife. Not only do the wildlife and trees get some attention, but the local community does as well.
Ecotourism should ensure the locals feel no sense of intrusion or exploitation, while respecting their culture or religion; however, in Cordillera – the northern Philippines – the  tourism industry promoted the indigenous Kankanaeys’ sacred community as a place where “one can connect with nature.” Apart from the fact the community had no say in whether they wanted people to connect with their nature, the tourists that arrived really left their mark.
Their caves, traditionally burial grounds, are vandalized with graffiti, and some of the bones of their ancestors ha actually been stolen. The community is also facing pollution concerns caused by littering and improper waste disposal at hotels. Indigenous people continue to suffer displacement and inequality, and tourism is a main factor.
A trip to Costa Rica, one of the most successful ecotourism destinations, and a tour of one of their conservation areas is more appealing and natural than a trip to a resort. This industry is not only more appealing to tourists, but also to tourism: an ecotour can cost an average $250, and that’s on top of the average trip price of $1000, depending on location. Ecotourists spend 8.5 percent more on their overall trip than typical tourists.
Ecodestinations should donate some of the money from the trip cost to various organizations or conservation groups in the area, and some do. If your money doesn’t go to these causes then it should go to special “eco” construction or the expensive nature-safe specialties like organic linens, biodegradable detergent, T5 fluorescent lightbulbs, energy-saving heating/air conditioning and more. Each hotel and every trip organizer (GAP Adventures, Free the Children, etc.) manage the costs of their trips differently, and every traveler has the right to know how the cost of their trip is dissected and where every cent goes. If you’re going on an ecotour, be sure to ask.
Conversely, when it comes to helping out planet Earth and reducing our impact on the environment and local communities, the best way to travel is not to travel at all, which makes ecotourism, in terms of ecological damage, not so different from typical tourism. Since travelling will always be an avid hobby, the question for many people is whether or not paying more for an ecotour is really worth the cost.
Ecotourism may help save a few watts and a few drops of water here and there, but there is a bigger and uglier picture to realize. Although it claims to reduce human impact, it tends to actually increase it.
Like typical tourism, planes, buses and cars are still required to get from point A to point B. This not only means roads and trails have to be constructed, but buildings and facilities; gas must be burnt and food consumed, so regardless of whether or not an impact is trying to be reduced, the impact still exists. In fact, much of the water supply in developing countries is used more by the tourists than the local inhabitants.
In the Balearic Islands and some coastal regions of Spain, saltwater intrusion into the drinking water occurred mainly due to groundwater overuse by the tourism industry.
And the flora and fauna tourists who travel half-way around the world to see the beauty are affecting those very landscapes. Tourist hikes, walks and ATV tours trample and destroy plants and scares away wildlife. Deforestation is also of concern to the helpless trees of the rainforest, especially in Brazil. In Cape Tribulation, Australia, the rainforest is being threatened by excessive tourism. Clearing for roads and pollution of waterways are two of the major problems in this area.
The whole purpose of an ecotour is to be in an area that is less populated with more opportunities to see wildlife. The industry isn’t just adding another hotel next to another hotel, but an ‘ecohotel’ in the middle of an area unaccustomed to this kind of world exposure, and lacking the infrastructure to sustain it.
Ecotourism may have benefits, but can mislead tourists who may think that they are making the most sustainable choice. Ecotourism is a word that has been joined by the convenient “eco” and it is on its way to being a popular travel trend. Regardless if you decide to go on a trip or tour that’s “eco” be sure to do your research before travelling.

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By Excalibur Publications



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