The Purpose of Ecotourism

The Purpose of Ecotourism

Most tourism in natural areas today does not fall under the category of ecotourism and is not, therefore, sustainable. Ecotourism is set apart by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation.

With the many advances in transportation and information technology, even the most remote places on our earth are within reach of the traveler. In fact, tourism is now the world’s largest industry, with nature tourism representing the fastest growing segment. People express a desire to experience nature and the world, but should make every attempt to do so in a way that does not negatively impact the natural environment.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines ecotourism as, “Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

Ecotourism generally possesses the following characteristics:

  • Conscientious, low-impact visitor behavior
  • Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity
  • Support for local conservation efforts
  • Sustainable benefits to local communities
  • Local participation in decision-making
  • Educational components for both the traveler and local communities

Increased tourism to sensitive natural areas without appropriate planning and management can threaten the integrity of ecosystems and local cultures. An increase of visitors to sensitive natural areas can lead to substantial environmental degradation. Local communities and indigenous cultures can also be harmed by a large influx of visitors. Ecotourism offers an opportunity for an increase in education and activism among travelers, making them more effective supporters of conservation.