Many today wish to contribute in a meaningful way to the environment when they travel, or at the very least to avoid causing damage to it.
A basic definition of eco tourism is: Eco tourism is travelling in a responsible way to natural areas that are protected or environmentally fragile. There are slight variations from this according to different organisations. However, there are recognised principles for contributing in a meaningful way to eco tourism which are as follows:
- Visiting natural destinations, emphasis on visiting unspoilt natural resources and protected areas in a responsible manner. Small groups as opposed to masses of tourists.
- Minimal impact on the environment.
- Building awareness of tourism’s impact on the local environment.
- Supporting local communities financially.
- Respecting local culture.
- Providing direct financial support or benefit to conservation.
There are differing opinions on who truly is an eco tourist and so the above is a guideline only. Some authorities place much store on political development in such areas. While that is well-intentioned, that extends well beyond the ecological impact, and a number of people are distinctly uncomfortable with extending the definition so far into the social sphere.
For some, eco tourism is simply about not leaving a footprint on the protected destination being visited and being responsible while travelling there, while for others this is taken further by lobbying for certain areas to be protected by governments and so forth. For example there is currently lobbying for certain animals to stop being hunted for pleasure by well-off travellers in certain parts of Africa. We submit that lobbying is not foremost when enjoying beautiful natural surroundings, any more than inspecting the kitchens is the intention of most people enjoying a fine meal.
Tourism, like kissing, is about the experience. If you are thinking about periodontal disease during a kiss then something has already gone dramatically wrong.
One way of contributing to eco tourism is to visit places where conservation is being done and supporting these by doing trips to national parks where one pays a conservation fee on entry. Avoid polluting the environment. Be aware of the animals and drive at the required speed limits as set by such parks. These behaviours do not detract from the fun and yet they show a willingness to contribute to a sustainable natural environment.
When travelling to well-managed eco areas there are organisations that vet and give accreditation to destinations, accommodation and touring suppliers in that area. They also ensure that local businesses are adhering to the principles of eco tourism, do not waste resources and have a low impact on the environment. This includes restaurants in the eco tourism destination.
One activity that is low impact physically and a recognised eco tourism activity is wildlife observation in the natural habitat of a recognised eco tourism destination.
To put it simply eco tourism is about the cause and effect of our actions as tourists on the environment and the actions of companies that build hotels, resorts and other such tourist places in places with fragile eco systems.
Some eco tourist destinations that are particularly well thought-of are:
- The Indian Elephant project currently working toward creation of the Siju-Rewat Elephant Corridor;
- the Norwegian fjords;
- some areas of Madagascar;
- and the Galapagos Islands.