Notes on The History & Principles of Responsible Travel

Blog > News | date: 2 Feb 2019

What is ecotourism? How does it work? Why does it matter? And how can we, as travelers, put the core principles of ecotourism into practice?

In recent years, the growth of interest in responsible travel has outpaced that of traditional sun/sand tourism by an increasingly wide margin. With some experts estimating that ecotourism now represents 11.4% of all consumer spending, these sorts of questions have become more and more common. And, as we continue to see more negative impacts of mass tourism on beloved destinations around the world, the answers to these questions will become increasingly vital.

Part of the confusion surrounding sustainable travel is the plethora of names being used for it within the industry. Ecotourism, a movement that began to take shape back in the 1980s, is the oldest and most commonly used word for it. More recent industry buzzwords include green travel, nature travel, responsible travel, ethical travel, mindful travel, conscious travel, pro-poor tourism, and many others. Regardless of what you call it, the central concepts that these philosophies share in common are that the travel industry as a whole should adopt more environmentally friendly practices, protect the natural and cultural heritage of a destination, and support local communities.

The Definition of Ecotourism

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the word “ecotour” was first recorded in 1973, followed by “ecotourism” in 1982.There, the word is defined as, “Tourism to areas of ecological interest (typically exotic and often threatened natural environments), especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife; spec. access to an endangered environment controlled so as to have the least possible adverse effect.”

The director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at Harvard, Epler Wood’s definition is more pertinenent to where we are today, she described ecotourism as, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

In order to be considered truly eco-friendly, ecotourism must make a positive impact on both the ECOlogy and ECOnomy of a given destination.
Other NGOs, such as The Center for Responsible Travel, CREST currently defines ecotourism as, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, socially and economically sustains the well-being of local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved (including staff, travelers, and community residents).”

A Brief History of Ecotourism

Ecotourism’s earliest origins arguably began with the Sierra Club’s Outing program. Launched in 1901, these annual expeditions took hikers into the Sierra Nevada’s backcountry in order to show members natural wonders, “so that those persons could become active workers for the preservation of the forests.”

The modern movement began to take root in the environmental activism of the 1970s. Some sources suggest that the term ecotourism was originally coined by Mexican architect-turned-environmentalist Héctor Ceballos-Lascuráin. He used the word to describe traveling to undisturbed areas in order to enjoy their natural beauty and culture.

The Pricinples of Ecotourism

Ecotourism is essentially all about bringing nature/wildlife conservationists, local communities, and the responsible travel industry together to ensure development focused on long-term sustainability rather than short-term profits. The goal is to develop tourist accommodations, activities, and attractions that benefit everyone involved– the local flora/fauna, the local people, travel industry stakeholders, and travelers alike.

Although international regulation and accreditation have remained elusive, these guidelines provide a general blueprint for responsible tourism development. Many of these principles align with those of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, which developed an extensive list of criteria for sustainable destinations, hotels, and tour operators.

  • Build Environmental & Cultural Awareness
  • Design & Operate Low-Impact Tours/Facilities
  • Provide Financial Benefits for Conservation
  • Provide Financial Benefits for Local People

Becoming a more responsible traveler is the best way to ensure your adventures are positive for the local people and the planet. When the core principles of ecotourism are applied, it can stimulate financial growth in developing nations, strengthening the global economy.

From an article by Bret Love
Learning about ecotourism during a life-changing experience in South Africa in 2000 permanently changed my understanding of mankind’s role in our planetary ecosystem, and I firmly believe that -- once you’ve had that sort of travel experience -- you’ll never want to travel the traditional way again. -Bret Love

Category: Ecotourism

Date: 2 Feb 2019

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