Ecotourism: Globe friendly travel

Written by  Jordan-Ashley Baker

Forget overpriced cocktails, crowded beaches and tacky gift shops. Ecotourism, the newest craze in travel, aims to give tourists a fun travel experience and benefit the environment. The ecotourism movement promotes environmentally responsible travel, ecological conservation and cultural awareness, according to the International Ecotourism Society.

"You connect to nature in a more meaningful way," said Dr. William Stott, a member of the Environmental Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But simply booking a flight to a remote island with the intention of observing the natural world doesn't make you an ecotourist, Stott said. The decision to become an ecotourist means considering every aspect of your trip, from transportation and lodging to activities and food, in the context of environmental sustainability. In addition to respecting plants and wildlife, developing a positive relationship with the local community is also an important aspect of ecotourism. The presence of an ecotourist should benefit the community, not detract from it, Stott said.

And the longer the visit, the more the tourist helps the environment and its residents. Snapping a picture of a bird or the local village and then immediately catching the next bus out of town won't make the area better. The best ecotourists will stay at their destination for weeks, maybe months, working the land and helping out the locals, Stott said.

But despite ecotourism's potential for positive environmental change, many people have the wrong intentions when they begin an ecotourism journey. Don’t be a “lister” – a tourist whose only aim is to cross a destination off their list of “things to do and places to see,” just so they can appear well-traveled. This been-there-done-that mindset has made ecotourism a consumer-based industry, not a productive social movement, Stott said. Known as "green washing," this phenomenon occurs when companies mislead consumers into believing that the product they're purchasing is environmentally friendly. Stott said it’s important to ask yourself: Am I truly helping the environment?And if you’re jet-setting to Las Vegas for a getaway in Sin City, then the answer is probably a resounding “no.”

Popular ecotourism destinations include the creepy-crawly covered Galapagos Islands in South America and the leafy rainforests of Gabon. Or you can build your own igloo in Manitoba, Canada (just make sure you bring someone to snuggle up with). These ecotourism hotspots offer environmentally friendly lodging, wildlife reserves and volunteer opportunities for their visitors.

To make sure your trip really is environmentally friendly, investigate many different ecotourism packages before making a final decision. Organizations around the world have created certification programs for environmentally conscious travelers. Sustainable Travel International created the Sustainable Tourism Eco-Certification Program to establish guidelines for travel companies offering ecotourism programs. These standards are based on the trip's environmental, sociocultural and economic impacts.

Above all, you have to travel for the right reasons. We all want our holidays to revitalize and invigorate our lives, and the environment deserves the same consideration.

Inspiring Conservation Experiences

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