Ecotourism is tourism which is conducted responsibly to conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of local people. Its benefits include:
For many countries, ecotourism is not simply a marginal activity to finance protection of the environment, but a major industry of the national economy. For example, in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal, Kenya, Madagascar, and territories such as Antarctica, ecotourism represents a significant portion of the gross domestic product and economic activity.
- Building environmental awareness.
- Providing direct financial benefits for conservation.
- Providing financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
- Respecting local culture.
- Supporting human rights and democratic movements such as:
- conservation of biological diversity and cultural diversity through ecosystem protection.
- promotion of sustainable use of biodiversity, by providing jobs to local populations.
- sharing of all socio-economic benefits with local communities and indigenous peoples by having their informed consent and
- participation in the management of ecotourism enterprises.
- tourism to unspoiled natural resources, with minimal impact on the
- environment being a primary concern.
- minimization of tourism’s own environmental impact.
affordability and lack of waste in the form of luxury.
- local culture, flora, and fauna being the main attractions.
- local people, who benefit from this form of tourism economically, and often more than mass tourism.
The Global Ecotourism Network (GEN) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved (visitors, staff and the visited)”.
Currently, there are various moves to create national and international ecotourism accreditation programs, although the process is also controversial. National ecotourism certification programs have been put in place in countries such as Costa Rica, Australia, Kenya, Estonia, and Sweden.
Ecotourism is often misinterpreted as any form of tourism that involves nature (see Jungle tourism). According to critics of this commonplace and assumptive practice, true ecotourism must, above all, sensitize people to the beauty and the fragility of nature.
Ecotourism is often misinterpreted as any form of tourism that involves nature (see Jungle tourism). Self-proclaimed practitioners and hosts of ecotourism experiences assume it is achieved by simply creating destinations in natural areas. According to critics of this commonplace and assumptive practice, true ecotourism must, above all, sensitize people to the beauty and the fragility of nature. These critics condemn some operators as greenwashing their operations: using the labels of “green” and “eco-friendly” while behaving in environmentally irresponsible ways.
Although academics disagree about who can be classified as an ecotourist and there is little statistical data, some estimate that more than five million ecotourists– the majority of the ecotourist population– come from the United States, with many others from Western Europe, Canada, and Australia.