Inspired Habitat is written by local environmentally-conscious lifestyle website Bambeco, a company committed to advancing a more sustainable world.
Summer vacation is upon us. It’s a time when many families are headed to the beach to beat the heat. Summer is a time for cookouts and campouts and lazy days in a hammock in the shade. But what if you want a little more adventure? Sure, you could take a trip just about anywhere. Summer is also a busy time for all the hot tourist destinations. How about something a little off the beaten path? Something a little more green?
Ecotourism has popped up as a big trend recently. Ecoutourism isn’t just about going places, it’s about giving back as well. It may educate, help fund ecological conservation, help foster understanding of human rights and different cultures and generally has a lighter impact on the earth than standard commercial tourism. Very simply, ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. It’s not about finding luxury accommodations in remote locations. Instead, it’s about finding harmony with the environment, and working to preserve it.
Author Martha Honey proposed seven criteria that have quickly become the standard for defining ecotourism.
- It involves travel to natural destinations
- It minimizes impact
- It builds environmental awareness
- It provides direct financial benefits for conservation
- It provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- It respects local culture
- It supports human rights and democratic movements
While it’s highly unlikely that any ecotourism package will meet all of the criteria, it’s a good place to start and goes a long way to weeding out the real providers from those who are just greenwashing their commercial enterprises with the label of ecotourism.
With the rising popularity of ecotourism, it is important to carefully evaluate packages and tour providers prior to committing. What can you do to ensure your ecotourism trip is as green as possible?
Educate yourself about ecotourism and your destination. Check out local news, culture and history as well as the vital ecosystems. Plan to learn, not just observe.
Wear clothing that is appropriate for the culture you will be in and be aware of people’s sensitivities, particularly regarding photography. Observe local customs and remember you are the visitor.
- Avoid ostentation
In many areas, you may be better off leaving your jewelry behind. A flashy camera, or designer wristwatch may be considered extravagant by other cultures and inhibit genuine interaction. Be careful about handing out sweets and spare change as well.
- Be flexible
Be open minded and you won’t be disappointed. Often changes in the plan means an opportunity for more in-depth learning or a unique cultural experience. Adapt yourself to the situation rather than expecting it to adapt to you.
- Conserve resources
Be aware of your use of what may be limited resources like wood or water, and especially of specialty foods that had to be transported long distances for your consumption. Choose small, family run inns over large luxury hotels.
- Practice minimal impact
Follow the Leave No Trace rules – pack out everything you bring in, remove litter others left behind and be aware of the local endangered species.
- Choose wisely
Research your tour operator or guide, and all of your options to ensure you are getting a truly green ecotourism experience and not one that has just been greenwashed.
- Support local economy
Use local transportation, guides, inns and restaurants. Not only will you have a more authentic local experience, you will be supporting the local economy in a way that helps protect the environment and improve living conditions.
- Bridge cultural gaps
Look for opportunities to talk to local people. Much of the world’s image of western tourists comes from television. Change their impressions for the better, have conversations on the bus, talk to the cook. It takes a little effort but it’s worth it.
- Continue working
When you fly back home, don’t let your commitment to conservation end. Share your experiences with others while it’s still fresh. Take action with the agencies and organizations available stateside to protect the environments you had the chance to see first hand.
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