Ecotourism can be explained as ‘responsible tourism’ and aims to sustain natural environments, to appreciate nature and promote conservation. The goal is to have as little impact on the environment and natural habitats as possible, while still being able to enjoy the top tourism attractions around the world and immerse yourself in the beauty of other cultures and locations.
Is there really a way to do this without impacting our future generations experience of our natural world? These are a few trends that are becoming more and more popular amongst travellers in an attempt to lower their negative impact on the environment.
Trending tags like ‘flight shame’, ‘flying in secret’ and ‘train bragging’ are encouraging the idea of flying less to reduce your carbon footprint. Tourists are becoming more open to this idea and are traveling closer to home, taking public transport or finding other alternatives to get to their destinations.
But sometimes it is not so simple, and many people travel for work or to see relatives and cannot avoid travelling by plane. At the same time, tourism is a major benefit for the economy, and we do not want to give up traveling completely! So, we can take steps to fly less, or stay longer. Here are a few ways to fly more ‘sustainably’:
- Choose a ‘greener’ airline. Some airlines have taken it upon themselves to implement initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions. Choose an airline that is attempting to help lower their carbon footprint.
- Choose a direct flight (if possible, of course).
- Fly economy class.
- Make your trip count. Stay longer, use public transport or cycle, show your support to local communities and conservation efforts in the area, choose central accommodation, go for hikes or walks and eat locally. Just make that airplane trip count!
Boycotting Petting and Riding Wild Animals
This movement is definitely getting more attention. I believe social media has a huge part to play in this. Videos go viral of abuse and neglect these animals receive. That is not to say that all animals in captivity are being abused or neglected, but the fact that it is unnatural to confine a wild animal, and human interaction has negative impacts on their natural instincts, prevent many from ever returning to their natural habitats. It is a message that we are seeing far too often.
Elephant trekking is hugely popular in Asian countries and is on many adventurer’s bucket list. While some people see this as a way to get closer to nature, it really takes the animals further away from their home. While many of these facilities exist as conservation efforts, there are far too many unethical practices that exist in these wildlife ‘petting’ zoos.
The same goes for places like SeaWorld, using animals as tourist attractions and forms of entertainment. While these places claim this is for educational purposes, one wonders how research can be done on a wild animal, who does not live, or may have never lived in the wild.
Tourists have joined in on the idea of boycotting “petting zoos” and infamous elephant rides, and there are various petitions doing the rounds to prevent these practices from continuing and to have the captive animals released back into the wild.
Choosing Green Accommodation
Travelers now have the opportunity to choose ‘green accommodation’ or ‘eco-accommodation’. It’s becoming an important factor for tourists to consider when booking their stays. While these options almost certainly come with a higher price tag, tourists are happy to pay as long as they are contributing to sustaining the environment.
Accommodations are changing their ways and are more open to implementing environmentally friendly practices and whether you’re looking for luxury or travelling on a budget, you will probably be able to find an eco-friendly accommodation option.
Hotels and lodges that practice eco-friendly initiatives use biodegradable products, have facilities in place to help reduce water wastage, use solar power, recycle and promote green transportation.
Ecotourists typically choose local B&Bs, guest houses and hostels for their accommodation over the much loved holiday resorts and luxury hotel experiences. These spots tend to have a greener approach and are more immersive. Choosing these accommodation options shows support for local businesses and has a positive impact on the local communities. The more personal experience is a real treat for tourists too!
Immerse Yourself in Authentic Experiences
Tourists who travel for the love of culture contribute to ecotourism. Living like a local, eating like a local and participating in cultural experiences in other countries is an important aspect of ecotourism. Tourists are encouraged to buy local produce, take public transport and eat out at local eateries rather than the fancy touristy restaurants. Organic restaurants are all the rage too!
Hiring local guides and purchasing handmade local crafts or products are a great way to support local communities and local guides have the best inside knowledge on your destination.
Learning about conservation projects in the area and sharing this with others goes a long way to spreading the movement of sustainable tourism and why it is important for future generations.
Volunteering & Supporting Local Conservation/Community Projects
A great way to make your trip count is to volunteer or show your support to local community development projects or conservation efforts in the area. Most accommodations will have information on local projects so be sure to inquire or research beforehand about how you can give back.
Avoid animal sanctuaries or projects that endanger animals’ welfare or are unethical. This is not always going to be clear, but if you are considering volunteering with animals, consider conservation projects that focus on the wildlife of the area, rather than at zoos or ‘petting’ facilities.
Travel to Lesser-Known Destinations
Overtourism is becoming a major concern. Some of our favourite destinations are being affected by the constant influx of tourists which puts pressure on local communities and the natural environment.
With over 1.4 million visitors per year, it’s easy to understand why tourism would be a concern. The fascinating Incan trails and ruins were certainly not built to cater for this number of visitors. Permits must be arranged for the various routes and visiting Machu Picchu which are limited per day.
The Galapagos Islands have been named an endangered heritage site due to the number of travellers to the area. The ecosystem here is extremely sensitive and has sadly been affected by the growing popularity of this destination. Cruises are more regulated and land tourism is monitored.
Everest has become increasingly popular over the past few years with over 35 000 visitors per year. Many tourists want to attempt the summit, others opt for routes like the famous route to Everest Base Camp, or there is an option to take a helicopter trip above base camp for a champagne breakfast! Waste left behind by tourists has become a problem, as well as the concern of the experience level of tourists wanting to take on the challenge.
These are just 3 destinations that are being affected by overtourism. Others include; Iceland, Bali, Yosemite National Park, Barcelona and much-loved Thailand! Deciding to travel to less touristy destinations helps prevent overtourism issues and contributes to local communities that do not see as many benefits from tourism. Travel during the off season and make use of local tour operators.
Travelling is not a right, it is a privilege it is so easily taken for granted. It is up to us to protect this privilege for the future generations.
Regardless of your budget you can still make responsible choices when you are traveling to lower your carbon footprint, while still having a wonderful time away!
Mark & Mila Whitman
Founders | Mountain IQ
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