Sometimes just hearing the words “Eco-Tourism” seems like you’re asked to obligatory stay at a farm, help the owner take out the weeds in the garden.
No, that’s not eco-tourism.
Those who chose eco tourism and sustainable travel believe the style of travel is meant to benefit the destination, the people who live there, and the environment in general – and it is!
But what some people might not consider is the benefits eco-tourism has in their own lives.
We believe nature is sacred and spending time in an unspoiled natural setting provides benefits to the traveler that are often overlooked.
We will look at the benefits green travel gives to the environment, the destinations plant, animal and human populations, and the benefits to the traveler.
As well as some basic options you could change during your next trip and become an eco-tourism advocate.
What is Eco-Tourism?
Depending on whom you ask, the definition of eco-tourism can vary quite a bit. The terms and lingo are just as diverse.
Eco-travel, Responsible Tourism, Sustainable travel, Green Travelers, Eco-friendly destinations, ecologically responsible travel, environmentally friendly holidays and the list goes on.
We define sustainable travel as:
Protecting wildlife and plant populations, keeping the Earth’s natural resources such as parks, nature areas, bodies of water, forests, beaches, rivers, air and similar features pristine.
Travel that sustainably improves the standard of living and economy of the destinations population.
The chance to discover new aspects of themselves, to evolve, and to find meaning and purpose in travel. The explorer should be able to learn about local wildlife population, the local environment and the challenges faced by the destination and its people.
The traveler should also enjoy their time, have a chance to genuinely connect with others, share, and become an advocate for the destination culture and environment.
Goals of Ecotourism
Ecotourism has different goals than other types of travel such as leisure vacations, or business travel where the goal may be to relax, be served, entertained, comfortable, conduct business and so on.
The goal of eco-travel and ecotourism is learning, appreciating, encouraging and helping to sustain the natural history, people, culture and customs of the place visited.
The goal includes conservation of natural resources and preservation of native plant and animals.
The impact of eco-travel ultimately benefits both the traveler and the destination and when done well, has a life changing impact.
Eco-tourism also has several benefits that are not necessarily inherent in other types of travel.
Why should I eco-travel? Benefits of Sustainable Travel and Green Tourism
Benefits to Locals and the Environment
The Ambassador and the power of Advocacy
Travelers have the power to influence opinions that outsiders have of the destination they traveled to.
The green traveler can use tools such as blogs, social media, even word of mouth to demonstrate and inform others of the intrinsic value of a place, its culture, environment and resources.
Everyone has a ‘sphere of influence’ they can address and inform, so this benefit is available to virtually everyone.
When the green traveler makes others aware of the location, the issues the locality faces and the culture that exists there, the traveler helps to give the area importance in the mind of others.
The traveler becomes an advocate or ambassador for the area by raising awareness. How much influence the traveler has is often up to them and what they choose to share and present with others.
Awareness of an area and issues faced is the first step in helping and preserving an area or culture.
The traveler can scout out ways to help the area, perhaps recommending reputable organizations in the area that others can get involved with or suggesting the best way to help conserve resources and culture.
The traveler can relay personal stories of the people or give compelling accounts of wildlife to outsiders.
The retelling of stories from the area makes the people, wildlife and environment in an area feel more real, so outsiders can feel connected to the area, even though they have not traveled there.
The potential to be a great help to an area is there for any eco-traveler and is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and the environment.
Advocacy and Ambassadorship in green tourism can be seen as an important and meaningful mission, in addition to a satisfying vacation.
Improving the economy and living conditions of those in the visited host areas
Studies show that eco-tourism is able to offer viable employment for people living in the visited area, can increase the standard of living in some cases, and can positively impact the perception the locals have of their own natural resources, making locals view their own environment as more valuable and worth protecting.
One of many economies positively impacted by tourism is Kenya.
In Kenya, 4.1 % of the GDP in 2014 was tour and travel related and 9.2 % of employed citizens work in the tour and travel industry directly or indirectly. (resource).
The best programs for green travel are those that involve locals to the greatest extent possible because the more involvement locals have the more ownership they experience of their location.
Carefully and thoughtfully constructed eco-tour programs and green travelers themselves can have a positive influence on people living in the area.
Maintaining, preserving and protecting Earth’s natural resources
Here is something you should know about CO2 emissions in the world we live in. According to Oxfam:
As members of a society which provides a standard of living that allows for travel and vacations, we should be aware that our choices while traveling have an effect on others who may not ever enjoy the luxury of traveling, especially the poorest populations who are most susceptible to the effects of travel on the environment.
Be aware that according to The World Tourism Organization, the largest component of tourism-related CO2 emissions is from aviation (40%), followed by cars (32%), and accommodation (21%).
We owe it to our fellow world citizens to travel responsibly and minimize our carbon footprint.
Sustainable travel practices such as using public transportation systems, buying food locally, camping or staying in local homestays, and booking direct flights are all activities most travelers can participate in.
When travelers choose green travel options natural resources are conserved.
Personal sense of meaning, identity, learning and self-development
Eco-travelers and green travelers often gain a sense of meaning from their vacations. Volunteer Tourism, also known as ‘vouluntourism’ gives people the opportunity to donate time and money to support valuable projects in the place they are visiting.
These opportunities give travelers a sense of purpose and can be catalysts for personal growth.
Learning about cultures vastly different from their own, supporting worthy causes, spending locally and advocating for areas can be a life changing experience for the green traveler.
Tourists gain an understanding of their own culture when given a chance to compare it to a distinctly dissimilar one of their host destination.
They are able to see the world in a different light, increase compassion for others and understand why others live differently from those in their own culture.
Appreciating and respecting the traditions and customs of other cultures is a means of preserving that culture because appreciation and respect work as motivation for the host population to share their culture and continue with their traditions and customs.
Green travel offers the chance to reconnect with nature in an unspoiled state, which is refreshing and satisfying.
Choosing to act in a manner that makes a difference, whether it is thru volunteering, or using less natural resources are often performed because it is satisfying to help others and help the environment.
Human beings have an inborn biological need to be helpful which is likely why helping feels satisfying. This innate human need also benefits society in general.
Choosing to help others or choosing to take actions that preserve the environment benefits others, but it also fulfills the givers basic needs. This is a true win-win arrangement.
How to Be a ‘GOOD’ Eco-tourist
Go Ecocamping. Choose a sustainable campground instead of booking a hotel.
The study found that Campsites are significantly more sustainable than hotels. The study found that campers are also more likely to contribute to the local economy and buy local vs. those who stay in hotels.
Become a Biker
Many cities have some very cool self service bike rental systems. Mexico City, one of the most populated cities in the world, has a system called Ecobici, where people can buy a membership for a day, three days, a week or a year.
They can grab a bike and ride for 45 minutes free with membership and pay small fees for rides over 45 minutes.
These systems benefit the riders health and finances as they do not have to pay for parking, car rental, gas and other car related expenses, but the city estimates the system has saved a massive 10 million tons of CO2 emissions since the beginning in 2010 till Oct 2016. (resource)
Multiply this CO2 savings by the estimated 1000 cities worldwide that have a bike sharing system and it adds up to substantial CO2 savings, and is a simple choice that makes a real difference.
Take the Trolley!
…or tram, streetcar, cable car, trolleybus, train, bus, subway, light rail, railway, monorail, etc.
The Trolley: It’s the San Francisco Treat! that just keeps on giving.
San Francisco is one of many large cities worldwide with trolley systems. The San Diego Trolley system carried over 95 million riders to their destinations in 2014.
One person trading a 20 mile round trip in a car for a trip in public transportation, such as a trolley, can reduce their carbon footprint by 20 pounds, DAILY.
The choice and variety of public transit is huge. Virtually all cities have a public transportation system that can save on cost and greatly lessen the environmental impact of travel.
Choosing any type of public transportation while traveling reduces your carbon footprint compared to getting in a private car and driving to your destination.
Be an Advocate or Ambassador
Share what you learn traveling on Facebook. Talk with others. Share details about the CULTURE and people where you travel.
Raise awareness of places, issues and the need for conservation.
One example of this principle in action is the conservation of the highly endangered Rwandan Gorilla. A Significant portion of revenue from a well organized tourism industry in Rwanda goes toward conservation of the gorillas.
This effort was initially made possible because ‘someone’ traveled to the region to study the gorillas and reported to others what he had learned.
That ‘someone’ was George Schaller, who shared his findings in a book published in 1963 called The Mountain Gorilla. The book spurred interest in the Gorillas and motivated folks to travel to Rwanda to see the Gorillas.
The interest in the area eventually led to local government carefully designing a tourist industry that directly benefits the gorillas and the local community as a whole.
It’s not necessary to write a book about travels in order to share the challenges and issues of places visited, the example is given to demonstrate the power green travelers can have by being ambassadors and advocates of places they visit.
While visiting the traveler can learn about local organizations, community efforts and other legitimate sources of help and report on those causes and encourage others to join the effort.
Green travelers who choose alternatives that keep income in the local economy help maintain the local culture.
Sometimes, hotels and other amenities in tourist areas are run by companies based outside the local economy.
Choosing to stay in accommodations which are locally owned and buying food and other items produced locally gives the traveler an opportunity to contribute to the local economy as opposed to benefiting the economy of mass tourism providers.
It may be the case that not every traveler can choose a green or environmentally friendly option every time, but certainly the majority of travelers can choose to ‘go green’ when it comes to at least some of their travel options.