Common Pitfalls on the Road to True Ecotourism

The latest buzz word eco has unfortunately triggered travel suppliers to saturate the market with hundreds of loosely understood eco holiday-labeled travel products, causing consumer confusion as to what the term ecotourism truly represents. 

Good intentions aside, while travelers want to make responsible vacation purchasing decisions based on ethical environmental standards for sustainability and conservation rather than marketing tactics, some common pitfalls befall most, including:

  1. Not understanding the three foundational pillars of true ecotourism:  Ecotourism travel focuses on the discovery of a natural or wildlife habitat in a manner that maximizes local economic and social goals, and reduces the possibility of environmental degradation.  Check to ensure that your locally-owner eco-tour operator emphasizes activities, such non-motorized water pursuits, which work with nature and wildlife habitats. 
  2. Focusing on comfort instead of the eco travel experience:  Ecotourism is about preserving ecosystems, educating visitors about conservation, empowering localities, operating sustainable tourist attractions – and, most of all, having fun and unique experiences!  While there are many travelers who understandably want to relax during a vacation and many ecotourism experiences that offer very luxurious accommodations, it is important not to only concentrate on the comfortable amenities of the trip, rather the potential to connect and share unforgettable memories with your family during your trip.
  3. Not recognizing legitimate eco-certification labels:  There are a myriad of eco-labels throughout the travel and tourism industry.  Fortunately, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council has begun authorizing some of them, providing the much needed legitimacy for award criteria, assessments and reauthorization processes.  Check out the website that helps to educate consumers about the various social, economic, cultural and environmental issues affecting the industry. 
  4. Choosing activities that emphasize outdoor adventure rather than environmental awareness:  Here’s a hint.  If you are being taken by a gas-guzzling double coach bus to experience your unique ecoactivity, it’s not about ecotourism.  True green activities, which can include kayaking, hiking and sailing, are led by certified naturalists, who guide small groups of no more than 12 to allow for first-hand interpretation and education of local flora and fauna.  Devoted ecotourism organizations not only teach tourists about the plants, birds, insects and animals of the region, but also how wildlife is crucial to the surrounding ecosystems.  Learning about the fragility and sensitivity of ecosystems becomes much more important than just a great photo opportunity.
  5. Believing that offsetting of carbon emissions is responsible enough: Unlike ten years ago when the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle, reclaim was in vogue and hailed by people, especially those in developed countries, who wanted to do their part to stem climate change, the de rigueur standard is now carbon offsetting.  Specifically for tourism, carbon offsetting presents an opportunity for people to counterbalance their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in certain forestry, renewable energy or development projects since their travels require a car rental, airplane flight, train trip or hotel stay.  Do your research though before you purchase your verified and reliable carbon offset credits to ensure that the company’s projects consist of investment in renewable energy and development projects in that create local employment opportunities and help reduce energy dependency.

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Comment by Hotel Mocking Bird Hill on July 31, 2011 at 2:55pm
Well said. I recently had an inquiry from someone looking for something rustic and equating rustic with environmentally friendly.  It takes a lot more than rustic or planting a few trees. A lot of traveller education needs to be done on this topic.

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