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By Artisha Naidu, Research and Content Fellow at Environic Foundation International

With warmer the weather here, many people are yearning for a much-needed vacation. While expenses are usually top of mind when planning a trip, environmental costs should also be a factor. Mass tourism is responsible for about five percent of global carbon pollution (UNWTO) and strains the supply of natural resource in areas dealing with resource scarcity issues.

The International Ecotourism Society’s sustainable solution to the mass tourism problem is ecotourism. They define ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

Some of the key principles include:

  • Minimize environmental, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
  • Bolster environmental and cultural respect.
  • Financially benefit conservation efforts.
  • Financially benefit the local economy.
  • Raise cultural and environmental awareness about communities.

Putting these principles in practice, however, can have some good and bad effects.

The Good

Ecotourism benefits the local ecology through education. Visitors learn about conservation efforts in fragile natural areas and encounter wildlife preservation efforts. They are also encouraged to use less and reuse their goods such as showering less to conserve water, turning off lights to reduce energy consumption, or eating plant-based meals.

Additionally, ecotourism benefits impoverished countries with historically low travel rates left relatively untouched by humans, sparing further destruction of more popular tourist destinations. Tourists are encouraged to immerse themselves in the local culture and tradition, attending cultural events and purchasing local goods, which creates jobs for the community.

The Bad

Without proper planning, ecotourism can have a negative impact. Ecotourism can lead to commercial developments, including the dark practices of turning naturally pristine areas into natural parks (additional info here) and displacing local communities to make room for more tourist attractions. Most importantly, additional travel and activity can further harm sensitive areas.

Meanwhile, as local economies become increasingly dependent on tourism, cultural expression can be strained, when people feel pressured to showcase the part of their culture that brings in profits.

And Better

Whether ecotourism does more good than bad depends on you. By taking some of these steps to travel more responsibly, you can be a better ecotourist:

  • Pick an ecotourist destination – listed here
  • Pack light – less laundry means less water and less weight on the plane
  • Leave your pet at home – carbon paw prints also stain our enviornment
  • Fly nonstop – a direct flight emits less carbon
  • Purchase carbon offsets – some airlines offer programs
  • Ride public transportation – better yet, walk or ride a bike
  • Buy local – reducing the carbon costs along the supply chain and avoid sweat shop labor
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle – take shorter showers, use less hotel goods, bottles, and bags
  • Use a “do not disturb” sign so that your room is not cleaned everyday
  • Turn off lights when leaving a room
  • Return paper programs such as maps and brochures

Artisha Naidu is a Master of Public Administration at the George Washington University. She is currently a Research and Content Fellow at Environic Foundation International and Summer Associate at Deloitte Consulting. Previously, Artisha worked for a number of urban planning agencies in California, including the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. She has a Bachelor of Science in Community and Regional Development from the University of California, Davis. Her hobbies include yoga, working with children, traveling, and hiking.   

Photo Credits: Joyce Hong CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, F Delventhal CC BY 2.0, pmonaghan CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Artisha Naidu
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