Have you ever thought that you want to enjoy travel and embark on an unforgettable experience? Why not immerse yourself in the daily life of the locals at your destination? Ecotourism is such a journey.
There are many names for ecotourism; such as sustainable travel or eco-friendly travel. The common denominator between these is efforts to preserve nature through ones tourism activities and a respect for local culture.
Ecotourism is ecology + tourism.
Various organizations have defined ecotourism, but The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), the world’s largest ecotourism NGO defines ecotourism as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.’
Eco-tourism is a win-win travel mechanism which protects the environment, returns profits to local communities, and learns for travelers.
Ecotourism is a way for tourists to create unforgettable memories by experiencing something unique that differs from the typical sightseeing trip.
Create a memorable experience
Eco-friendly accommodation options can be found in the forms of eco-hotels and eco-lodges, sometimes even tree houses and homestays! It is possible to participate in tours and excursions which explore the area’s biodiversity and focus on conservation efforts.
In addition, it can be fun to learn about local flora and fauna and the environment while in the wilderness. The traveller can look forward to a cross-cultural exchange with local residents, eating local meals using locally sourced food items, try on the local historical costume, listen to local music and dance. Some travellers are fortunate to be able to act as part of the community while visiting, by participating in cooking classes, learning how to make their own handicrafts in workshops (or purchase community made handicraft as souvenirs) etc. as a way to experience the life of the locals by immersing oneself in it.
Be friendly to the environment and culture
Some activities, such as tree-planting experiences, have a direct connection to the renewal of natural resources. With this as an exception, most activities are more focused on the environmental protection & preservation aspect of things. By visiting national parks and nature reserves where the local nature is protected, the admission fee will generally be used to provide funding for the area’s nature conservation efforts, educational programmes within the reserve area, biodiversity research, and use of renewable energy and proper rubbish disposal and recycling programmes.
If the traveller opts to stay at an eco-hotel or eco-lodge which uses organic local products, that simple choice alone will also aid in the promotion of environmental conservation.
Conservation of the local culture is an important element of ecotourism. The traveller can experience the “real life” of local cultures and customs that vary from the tourism-tailored experiences, so it is possible to learn more in-depth about local cultures and customs.
Additional benefits for local communities
Eco-friendly, eco-tourism that gives travelers the feeling of being a member of the local community, benefits not only the traveller but also the local community.
Local residents who have been engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture and poaching, etc. to make a living until now, are now able to make more money than ever before by ecotourism activities which work to protect the nature which was previously being destroyed. In this aspect, ecotourism is already a success story.
Locals recognise that the local nature and culture are of value to foreign travelers and the possibilities to make money by engaging in tourism while protecting it. Some examples of this are the local restaurants and grocery stores, accommodations, tour guides, cultural shows, etc. which create local employment. These businesses also act to encourage locals to acquire new skills.
Benefits from activities such as national park entrance fees, show participation fees, and accommodation fees can help to stabilise the local community economically as well as contributing to the improvement of local infrastructure, drinking water, schools, health centers, and electricity-related facilities.
Below are some examples of the lifestyle change and current environment of local residents. These are three videos in english language that clearly show examples of how ecotourism has changed the lives of local residents.
In Rancho Quemado, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, the economic situation was very bad 20-25 years ago and the people had no reliable work. People were illegally logging and hunting to make a living.
There is an overseas research project in the jungle there, and while observing animals living in the forest, local people became interested in nature and wildlife in the area. That led to the discovery that foreigners were also interested in local nature and the creatures that live there, and considered it a valuable resource to outsiders.
When residents distribute information regarding the overall state of the local jungle on the web and SMS, tourists come to visit, and local residents are able to take on various jobs such as lodging, restaurants, tourist guides, etc.
In 2018, Costa Rica’s tourism revenue totaled nearly $4 billion.
In 2014, Botswana banned trophy hunting in Africa. Botswana instead promoted ecotourism, protecting wildlife and allowing for tourists to view wildlife from a distance, thus creating a safe sanctuary for elephants and other animals.
In Indonesia, locals who illegally harvest sharks and turtles did not stop there.
Couples from outside witnessed the destruction of nature around the beautiful island and designated the area as a marine protected area. They built an eco hotel on the island, financed and managed its request to be done. Now, rangers patrol the area, control illegal fishing and protect biodiversity.
Anyone can participate
Ecotourism isn’t just for environmental activists or active backpackers. Anyone can participate and experience the joys of ecotourism. It is even possible to participate in groups with friends, lovers, family, children or even fellow travellers.
Rates vary, so everyone can participate.
When a person hears the words “Eco” or “Bio”, the thought is usually that the price is higher than usual. Some people may have that perception, but it is not necessarily the case. Of course luxury options do exist, if the high-end route is what the traveller is searching, but this is more the exception than the rule.
Accommodations such as eco hotels and eco lodges are available in a wide range of options and prices. There are a variety of hotels, from small and affordable local hotels to luxury hotels. The shared factor is that the operation is environmentally friendly and sustainable. One doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to engage in ecotourism activities. It can be done in something as simple as a day trip, or souvenir selection.
Participate in ecotourism
Ecotourism is a conscientious way of travelling and touring, where travelers and the local community learn from each other and create a positive experience for both the travelers and the locals. It is a chance to get to know and to show respect for the local environment and culture. The traveller is able to use all five of their senses to learn about cultures around the world, the people who live there, the rich history and the environment!
By participating in preservation efforts by engaging in ecotourism, one is able to help preserve for the future, their children and their generations, the same as we have seen and experienced.
How the earth is ultimately affected is a decision that is weighed upon by every individual. What may seem like a simple decision today, when combined with many others, can lead to great things tomorrow.
Take an eco-friendly journey and have an unforgettable and memorable experience!
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