Eco101: Eco-Tourism

Small World, Big Cause presents Eco101

Environmental issues are the topic of our generation, and rightly so. More and more the consequences of our modern day lives are coming to the forefront of our consciousness, but it can be easy to become overwhelmed with so many terms and ideas being thrown around. Small World, Big Cause was created in 2017 to make environmental and conservation topics more accessible. My name is Rebecca, the founder of SWBC, and as I am learning about the world around me and the problems it faces, I am sharing that knowledge in the hope that, together, we can make significant, long-term change.

Eco-Tourism

Travel is a huge part of modern life. It’s how many of us unwind, how we improve our understanding of the world around us and how we come to terms with our place on this planet. It should be no surprise that travelling is also a huge contributor towards our escalating emissions, increased globalisation, the potential exploitation of vulnerable communities and the poor treatment of animals for tourism. Eco-Tourism is one way that we can help to mitigate our impacts on the planet and all who call it home, whilst still enjoying the beauty that this world has to offer.

So, what is Eco-Tourism?

The definition of eco-tourism is the ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.’ (TIES, 2015) Eco-Tourism is a way to enrich our travelling experience and truly embrace the day-to-day variety and cultural diversity that the world has to offer, in a way that preserves it for the future. It’s really the future of travel and exploration for us all.

Why is Eco-Tourism important?

Eco-Tourism makes tourism and travel beneficial to all who call this planet home. It has become increasingly evident over the past decade, and specifically throughout the trials of 2020, that the world is changing. That our impact on the planet can no longer be ignored and that we have to make change. To embrace eco-tourism there are certain criteria that your travels have to abide by and there are many benefits to choosing eco-tourism.

  • You can actively minimize your physical, social, behavioural and psychological impacts on the planet and the communities that you interact with.
  • Help to build awareness of environmental and cultural issues, whilst also respecting traditions and the natural world.
  • Experience more positive interactions with the wider world.
  • Invest directly in local communities and on-the-ground conservation efforts.
  • Increase the understanding and sensitivity towards local communities and their needs, including political, environmental and social issues.
  • Encourage the use of low-impact travel practices and change the sector through consumer demand.
  • Empower local communities around the world through the respect and recognition of their varied spiritual and traditional beliefs, leading to cooperation and implementation of rights for those who are at risk from exploitation.

I don’t know about you, but an offset in the impact of our travels is something I can definitely get behind. So, the next question that you naturally will have is;

How can I be an eco-tourist?

Where do I start?

Here are some top tips to get you on your way to becoming an eco-tourist.

  • Go off the beaten track – try locations that aren’t often frequented by tourists.
  • Stay at local and/or eco-friendly accommodations options, rather than always choosing chain hotels.
  • Seek out eco-tours, operated by local people for an authentic experience.
  • Use public transport whilst on holiday instead of exclusively using private taxi services.
  • Visit nature reserves and other conservation projects in the local area, to support their work and encourage education.
  • Live by the rule ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’ – be aware of your rubbish and be respectful of natural areas that you visit.
  • Invest in eco-friendly products, such as sunscreen, to limit your impact on the natural environment around you.
  • Eat local! You didn’t travel halfway around the world to eat what you would normally cook at home – be adventurous!
  • Purchase locally made souvenirs which encourage sustainable and ethical practices. Be sure not to purchase any animal products that could be encouraging poaching or the illegal wildlife trade.

Another factor to consider is your emissions – don’t think that I have forgotten about that! Our carbon emissions are heavily increased by flying around the globe – however, there are things that you can do to combat this too. They aren’t ideal, hopefully as technology evolves, we will figure out ways to cut the emissions of transportation but, until then, here are some things to tip the balance back in the planets favour a bit.

  • Eat more plant-based, cutting down on your meat and dairy will reduce your emissions overall – why not start at one plant-based meal a week and go from there?
  • Look into alternative transport opportunities. You don’t have to fly everywhere, look into train travel or going by boat – make it part of the fun, rather than a means to an end.
  • Reduce the number of flights that you take. Why not invest in one all-out abroad holiday per year, instead of a few cheaper all-inclusive getaways?
  • Invest in carbon offset initiatives to an equal value of your emissions.

To help you out further, we’ve done some research to find out the best locations to be an eco-tourist. There are opportunities all over the globe, but these seem to be the top in terms of environmental, sustainable and ethical opportunities to embrace what the planet has to offer in a positive way.

  1. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is seemingly above and beyond the rest when it comes to eco-tourism opportunities. It is known for its vast areas of protected natural beauty and biodiversity in the rainforests that make up a quarter of the country. This is the draw for many tourists from all over the globe, so the economic value of preserving these areas now outweighs any development opportunities that would change the landscape. With a wide variety of views and areas to visit, and also many eco-friendly accommodation options to choose from – you can live your best eco-tourist life and have the trip of a lifetime too.  

  • Norway

Norway might not be your first go-to for a holiday destination, but it is a good eco-tourism option. There is a country-wide culture of sustainability that is proving really popular with tourists in recent years. The country ensures the effective regulation of fishing, hunting and oil drilling, providing a blueprint for how other countries could effectively manage modern life and environmental impact. In addition, the Norwegian Fjords are famous the world over and are one of four destinations chosen as part of a pilot project, run by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, so you will have the ideal holiday to make beautiful memories with the ones that you love.

  • Kenya

An African Safari is a bucket-list item for many. This makes it another destination that sees the intrinsic value in preserving the natural landscape. Although there are still some issues that need to be overcome in this area (species conservation, poaching, etc), as with most places on the planet, this is a great place to stretch your eco-tourist muscles. With opportunities to see the ‘big-5’ and also a range of other areas to explore, including beaches, reefs and mountains – there is something for everyone here. Just ensure that your options for travel, accommodation, activities and souvenirs are sustainable and ethical in their practices.

  • Palau

I hadn’t heard of Palau, if I am honest. It’s an island nation in the Western Pacific that forms a part of Micronesia. It is known for beautiful, crystal blue seas which are home to vast coral reefs and the accompanying biodiversity. It has strict rules including no-fishing zones, which are proving effective in preserving the natural beauty of the area. It is also a popular destination for students of relevant subjects, due to its participation in the Palau Project. As part of Blue Planet United, this project is bringing university students to the island to learn more, document their findings and support eco-tourism initiatives.

  • Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands were named the first ever Natural World Heritage Site due to the uniqueness of the biodiversity found there. This is an area that many people want to visit, however, there are visitor management systems in place to ensure that the islands are not ruined by tourism. It is vital that as an eco-tourist, you respect the measures that are put in place. Look into eco-accommodations that lessen their impact on the environment, thus ensuring that you keep these islands pristine and healthy.  

  • Antarctica

One of the last true wildernesses on our planet, Antarctica may seem out of reach for many, but it is worth a place on your eco-tourism radar. Visit a completely different world to the one you know and help environmentally responsible tour operators to show the value of this area. Hopefully when more of us can experience its glory, we can all invest in its safety and preservation for the future.

  • Iceland

An increasingly popular destination, it is a beautiful and diverse place to visit whilst on your travels. There are many eco-friendly accommodation and adventure options to embrace whilst you are there, including, camping, hiking, sightseeing, etc. In addition, the country is seen as the cleanest energy consumer in the world! Amazing!

  • Amazon Rainforest

Last but by no means least, the Amazon Rainforest is an area that hugely needs our support and protection – as a reader of this blog, I am sure this isn’t news to you!  Having been exploited time and time again by human activities, we desperately need to enhance understanding and educate widely about the value of leaving this ecosystem untouched. Deforestation, globalisation and the effects of climate change are decimating this area and we need to use our power as consumers to change the way this resource is seen and used before we lose it forever.

I know that travel isn’t an option for many of us right now, with the COVID19 pandemic ruling our lives over the course of 2020 and with lockdown measures still in place for many of us. However, if this year has taught us anything, it is about our capacity to embrace change. Let eco-tourism be a part of our new normal and help our planet remain beautiful for future generations. The world has seemed a scary place this year, but we will find its beauty again and have our chance to explore the endless treasures of the world.

Written by Rebecca Hansell for Small World, Big Cause Blog.

With additional research by Mickey Stanley, thank you.


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