swing beach

What is the Difference Between
Ecotourism, Sustainable Tourism
and Nature Tourism?

Have you ever wondered what the actual difference is between ecotourism, sustainable tourism and nature tourism? You are not alone! Continue reading below. 

Many people, have a tendency to use the terms ecotourism, sustainable tourism and nature tourism interchangeably. Using them in this way creates confusion about the actual differentiation and type of tourism these terms regard. Add to this a dose of ‘green washing’ in the mainstream tourism industry and it becomes quite clear, the reasons which contribute to the intermingling of the terms. 

As we at ecotourism-world are here to share information, we wish to clearly define and explain these three terms and their differences so you, as the knowledgeable tourist, can better continue with researching your tourism plans. 


As defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary, Ecotourism is ‘the business of organizing holidays to places of natural beauty in a way that helps local people and does not damage the environment’. For a closer view, TIES (The International Ecotourism Society) defines this as “Responsible travel to the natural environment that protects the environment, maintains the lives of locals, and educates travelers about nature.”

There are 3 pillars of ecotourism, which are the conservation of nature, the ability to generate financial benefits for the local community and to offer a learning experience for visitors. These pillars can cover a great many happenings, such as visiting nature reserves, utilising the services of local rangers, opting to purchase locally made handicrafts as opposed to mass-produced souvenirs, creating positive experiences for both host and visitor, as well as the general idea of leaving a destination in as good or better condition as you found it.

Ecotourism is the majority focused on the ecology aspect of tourism, education and contributing to the community on the local level.

Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism is defined as ‘Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.’ (U.N. World Tourism Organization, UNWTO)

One good thing to remember with sustainable tourism is that sustainability is the key word. In short, sustainability means to be able to sustain (to continue on) an activity or otherwise at the same level. This concept follows many different lines, be it environmental, in business, or in daily life. 

According to UNWTO, there are 5 pillars of sustainable tourism. These pillars are: Tourism policy and governance, trade / investment / data and competitiveness, employment / decent work and capacity building, poverty reduction and social inclusion as well as the sustainability of the natural and cultural environment.  These pillars include a great many happenings as well, such as gaining authentic tourism experiences, taking the necessary steps to conserve the local heritage and culture, conserving the nature, contributing to the sustainability of local communities by utilising the options available to you at the local level – thus placing funding back into the community which enables ‘them’ to invest in micro businesses, local infrastructure and education.

Sustainable tourism is majority focused on reducing the impact of tourism, employment for locals, and the conservation of cultures. 

Nature Tourism

Nature (based) tourism is defined as ‘leisure travel, undertaken largely or solely for the purpose of enjoying natural attractions and engaging in a variety of nature (based) activities.’ (Ecotourism Australia) In short, visiting nature and enjoying it!

Nature tourism is focused on nature and the activities in nature as well as promoting nature tourism and often includes recreation type of programme. A few examples of nature tourism are trekking in the nature parks and preserve areas, bird watching and stargazing.


Ecotourism and sustainable tourism both have a focus on the environment, nature and promoting tourism and welfare of peoples at a local level. These commonalities shine a light on the urgent need for traditional tourism to transition into a more earth- friendly, community-focused form of tourism.

The differences, although are what separates these forms of tourism.  Eco = Ecology, education which are some of the fundamentals for ecotourism. Sustainable tourism = sustainability, reducing impact, cultural conservation, making it possible to sustain. Ecotourism must be more focused on nature conservation, environment or local culture and be of benefit to the local community. Sustainable tourism can be a bit more widespread as it can better fit all forms of tourism across a broader spectrum.  Nature tourism is a nature-based focus on nature activities only.


Based on the information available, it is advisable to select from options which fall under the categories of ecotourism and sustainable tourism, if you are wanting your tourism selection to truly have an impact. Nature tourism can be an enjoyable day spent in nature. However, as nature tourism is not necessarily inclusive of any preservation, or locally beneficial activities and is mainly just existing in nature, it would not be our recommendation as a impactful tourism option.

Would you like to receive inspiration in your email? Please click here to register for our newsletter!