There are a lot of comments out there in cyberspace about what is and what is not ecotourism.
Let’s look at one definition (from TIES – The International Ecotourism Society). They say that ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas, that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.
While that is fine and dandy, it just doesn’t cut it for me. Flor Burke, a great eco-friendly brain if ever there was one, talks about ‘education’. I think it’s his favourite word, or one of a shortlist anyway. You see, ecotourism must be quite a bit more than just travel that doesn’t damage the environment and puts some money in the pocket of providers. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that – it’s all good. But where’s the reference to education, the learning ? Where’s the interaction with local people, the cultural aspect ?
When I bring groups to Poland each year, I ensure there’s a meeting with local people. Of course, interaction is limited, because we don’t speak Polish and they don’t speak English. But we do a presentation about our tourism businesses, so they can learn, we can learn and ask eachother questions through an interpreter. It’s crude, but nice.
We stay in local accommodation, owned and run by local people. We eat local produce. We travel in a locally owned minibus, driven by a local driver. We use a local guide, who teaches us as we go.
Perhaps the definition adopted by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) is better. They say that ecotourism is “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature and accompanying cultural features, both past and present, that promotes conservation, has a low visitor impact and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”
Lovely, but a bit wordy. Clearly, there’s a bit more on people and culture. But it’s still lacking on education.
The Greenbox, on the other hand, does include education :
“Ecotourism is travel that is small scale, low impact, culturally sensitive, community and conservation orientated, primarily nature based, educational and capable of broadening people’s minds and enlivening their souls, while providing a unique experience, firmly grounded in sustainable principles and practices.”
Wow ! Try learning that mouthful off by heart. Interestingly, the version of this definition currently appearing on their website omits the words “and conservation” from the above, earlier, printed version. I hope and assume that’s just a typing error.
As an aside and a counter view, do read Todd Comen’s excellent book called “Integrated Rural Tourism” and see where he places ecotourism in the overall scheme of things.