Ecotourism is considered the fastest growing market in the tourism industry. What is ecotourism? Defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), it is "Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people."
Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. You must have a deep appreciation for local cultures around the globe, which is why I think it's so great. Along with this it provides direct financial benefits for conservation and the local economy and empowerment for local people. Can tourism really do this much?
As one of the largest business sectors in the world economy, the Travel & Tourism industry is responsible for over 230 million jobs and over 10% of the gross domestic product worldwide. Travel & Tourism (consumption, investment, government spending and exports) is expected to grow 5% and totals around US $7 trillion a year.
Tourism is especially important in developing countries. It is a principle export for 83% of developing countries, and the leading export for 1/3 of poorest countries. For the world's 40 poorest countries, tourism is the second most important source of foreign exchange, after oil. As you can see, being able to travel sustainably, can really help the global environment and local businesses at the same time. Anyone can participate in ecotourism. You don't have to be a backpacker or suffer a quality vacation because of it. So how do you get started?
TIES outlines five easy steps to planning your trip:
1. Search the web: Look for information and resources on responsible travel, ecotourism, or sustainable tourism.
2. Consult guidebooks: Choose guidebooks with information on your destination's environmental, social and political issues, and read before booking. Guidebooks vary in quality, even within a series, but Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Moon are among the best.
3. Make contact: Call or email tour operators that have firsthand knowledge of the place you are considering visiting. Check the websites of all accommodations.
4. Ask questions: Let tour operators/hotels know that you are a responsible consumer. Before you book, ask about their social and environmental policies. For instance - What is your environmental policy? What percentage of your employees are local citizens? Do you support any projects to benefit the local community?
5. Choose wisely: Are the businesses you're considering certified? Do they have eco-label ratings, or have they won eco-awards?
If you are looking to travel in the near future, why not give ecotourism a try?