Ecotourism and sustainable tourism

An offshoot of the environmental movement of the 1970, ecotourism has come into its own over the past two decades. Thanks to an increasing awareness of environmental issues such as climate change, combined with a high demand among European and North American travellers for unspoiled locations, authentic cultural experience, and recreational challenges, ecotourism is growing at a rate of 20 percent annually, making it the fastest-growing sector in the tourism industry.

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as economically sustainable, ecologically sensitive, and culturally acceptable. Closely related is the concept of sustainable tourism identified in our common future, the Brundtland Commission's report to the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development: Development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"

Ecotourism's principles clearly distinguish it from conventional mass tourism. Instead of classic tourist meccas, ecotourism seeks out remote locations with strict environmental protections and operates on a small scale. 
Ecotourism and sustainable tourism
Tourists, business and local residents are encouraged to minimize their impact on the environment by recycling materials, conserving energy and water, safely treated human waste and properly disposing of garbage, using alternative energy, and building in a manner that fits in with natural surroundings.

The financial benefits from ecotourism are passed on to the community through conservation projects, employment, partnerships and local participation in the development and management of local resources.

Synonymous with green tourism, ecotourism promotes cultural sensitivity and respect for traditions and customs in order to avoid the kind of exploitation that has turned tribal ceremonies into side-shows and relics into souvenirs. Ecotourism also plays a political role in its support of human rights and democracy.

The popularity of ecotourism is a problem in itself. The original ecotourists were small in number, deeply committed to conservation and actively engaged in cultural exchange. At one time, they were willing to rough it and go off the beaten path, but now so-called ecotourists travel and expect the comforts of home package in a pretty setting.

In the process, nature once an honoured treasure, has become a commodity and a photo opportunity. Larger numbers of ecotourists consume more resources and leave a larger impact on the environment, and co-operators require more land to accommodate demand. As ecotourism spreads to more sensitive, comers of the earth, it could end up defeating its original purposes.

Ecotourism can be achieved only if steps are taken in the right directions. In 1993, British Airways led the way as the first airline to implement a systematic environmental policy. The International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI) has more than 5000 members from 111 countries.

In cooperation with the United Nations Environment Program and the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, the IHEI developed an Environmental Action Pack for Hotels in 1995 to promote environmental management, energy and water conservation, and waste and emission reduction.

In 1996, the World Tourism Organization, the World Travel and Tourism Council, and the Earth Summit Council drafted Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry, recognizing the interdependence of Tourism, peace, development and environmental protection. The year 2002 was declared the United Nations International Year of Ecotourism, with an ecotourism summit held in May.

Whether initiated by trade of intergovernmental organizations, blueprints and agreements can be meaningful only if governments are proactive. Belize and Costa Rica, for example, have established national policies and strategies to farther ecotourism.

Brazil, Indonesia, Namibia and Nepal integrate small-scale, community-oriented approaches into their tourism programs. While progress continues to be made on many fonts and by many players, it is the individual traveller who will keep ecotourism on track.

Tourists can make informed choices about travel destinations and tour operators, as well as conscious efforts to reduce their individual impact on the environment and to practice cultural sensitivity toward local people.

They can participate in volunteer conservation projects and gain skills and knowledge in the process. They can pressure governments to pass and enforce laws that protect the environment. Ultimately, they can spend their money where it is put to green use. Nature is counting on them.
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