Travellers are increasingly looking beyond the ‘greenwash’ for proof of travel companies’ commitment to environmental sustainability. The value of ecotourism may also be judged by whether it provides economic opportunities for communities where livelihoods are otherwise under threat.
Planning a holiday is something people look forward to – half the fun is in the anticipation. For an increasing number of us, the crucial questions of where, when and what facilities are on offer are now joined by another set of criteria – how environmentally sustainable is my destination?
Ecotourism provides a way for travellers to ensure that the effects of their holidays go beyond suntans, snapshots and happy memories, to provide real and lasting benefits to the environment and communities. The primary motivation for most ecotourists is to minimise the impact of their leisure on the environment, but for ecotourism destinations, the benefits can be even broader.
Giulia Carbone, deputy head of the Business and Biodiversity Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), says: “Ecotourism can be a very powerful conservation strategy. Many conservation NGOs are now establishing ecotourism businesses linked to their conservation projects. Ecotourism businesses can provide sustainable livelihood alternatives for the local community, hence taking away pressure from the local environment. Also, they can help raise funds for projects.”
For holidaymakers seeking out ecotourist destinations, the bewildering variety of locations on offer can pose a dilemma. An ever-increasing number of hotels and guest houses are laying claim to environmental credentials, anxious to broaden their appeal and, in some cases, save money through efficiencies that also preserve the environment. But is the claim of an ecotourism label enough to ensure real benefits?
How should the responsible traveller make a choice? One way is to look for destinations that describe themselves as eco-friendly. The difficulty with that is there is no single agreed-upon definition of ecotourism. Carbone explains: “Ecotourism is not a brand – it is a way to link conservation and business that can take place anywhere.”