What is Ecotourism? Sustainable Travel Tips You Need to Know About

At Sherpani, we’re all about travel. But what we love even more is sustainable travel. Because as the bumper stickers say: “There is no planet B.”

As tourism increases, so does stress on local land through soil erosion, pollution, and disruption to natural habitats. Hiking, camping, and site-seeing can all have devastating effects on the environment.

That’s where ecotourism comes in. There are plenty of ways to enjoy nature’s wonders and see the world without wreaking havoc on the environment and local habitats.

What Is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism is a way to respect the environment while giving back directly to communities, which makes it an even more important distinction from typical tourism.

Also known as “eco travel,” ecotourism is a relatively new concept that originated in 1987. Conservationist Hector Ceballos-Lascurain defined ecotourism as: “tourism that consists in traveling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas.”  

The goal of ecotourism is to study and enjoy the local plants, wildlife, and culture. Think of it like being an observer, and your primary goal is to conserve and protect what you see along the way.

A great example of this kind of work is Dr. Jane Goodall, who has spent much of her life studying and advocating for the protection of great apes in their natural habitats. While there, she revolutionized the way we understand our closest ancestors.

Here’s everything you need to know about ecotourism and sustainable travel so that you can explore the world and leave it better than you found it.

Why Is Ecotourism Important?

You can boil ecotourism down to 3 main principles: conservation, community, and education.

Many tourist activities exploit resources and damage the environment. You might not realize it, but hiking on a popular trail, zip-lining through a forest, and taking a dip in a hot spring can all have consequences for the earth and local wildlife.

Conservation aims to combat this. Travelers who seek out ecotourism can use their money to invest in preservation, research, and infrastructure. 

There are economic benefits of ecotourism as well, like increasing employment opportunities and empowering communities.

Areas of the world that support ecotourism efforts tend to experience lower poverty levels, too: Costa Rica — surrounded by conservation land — showed 16% lower poverty rates than areas that didn’t have protected parks nearby.

When managed effectively, eco travel spreads awareness for protecting natural ecosystems and species that are at risk of extinction by human behavior. This can lead to the creation of wildlife sanctuaries, which can then employ people who live in the area.

How Do You Practice Ecotourism?

If you’re going on a trip that involves outdoor activities or exploration, it’s essential to do your research about the area and the culture there. You’ll want to pick a location where you can provide benefits to a local environment or community, and keep your ecological footprint as small as possible. 

A perfect example is Tanzania. With over 25% of the land dedicated to national parks, ecotourism supports 400,000 jobs to the community.

There are plenty of organizations that provide ecotourism trips with opportunities to practice sustainable travel and engage with local communities in a positive way. You can volunteer to give tours at a National Park, or join a local sustainability campaign. If you’re an educator, you can ask how to help support local education programs and initiatives.

It’s also extremely important to be mindful of your impact while traveling. For example, snapping a photo of your travels for Instagram can be fine, but if you’re taking a picture with flash next to a centuries-old piece of art? Not a good look.  

It’s also essential to get consent from local people and children to take photos of them. The last thing you want to do while eco traveling is disrespect peoples’ cultural and personal privacy.

This also means visiting lesser-known places to cut down on foot-traffic. Besides, who doesn’t want to skip run-of-the-mill tourist traps these days?

Another angle is to approach ecotourism where you currently live. Have a creek nearby? Lead a clean-up crew for a day.

Live on occupied land previously owned by Indigenous people (hint: we all do)? Support these historically displaced communities by signing petitions, reforming legislation, or writing to your local government officials.

Need to buy something? Skip Amazon and buy from a local shop or artist you meet along your ecotourism adventure.

The key is that you use your curiosity and creativity to make the world a better place, no matter where you are.

Examples of Ecotourism Around the World

You don’t have to look far to find the devastation of humans on the planet. But what we find inspiring is what people are doing about it.

Previously decimated by hunting, Columbia’s jaguar population is coming back to life with the Jaguar Corridor Initiative. Eastern Kentucky fights to save the Red River Gorge from a luxury resort. A ranch in Mexico offers horse rides through 150-acres of hacienda estate.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to ecotourism. And we’re doing our part, too!

10 years ago, our Sherpani founders took a trip to a remote island in the Bahamas. When they got there, they found the ocean littered with garbage floating all around them.

Thus began the birth of a conservation project to clean up our precious oceans of over 3.2 million water bottles.

The Blue Verve Project raises awareness and provides local solutions to eliminating plastic pollution from the ocean. Through community involvement, we’re dedicated to keeping trash out of the ocean and away from precious natural wonders.

What did we do with all that extra plastic?  We made some cool bags out of it. Our Essentials Collection is made from 100% recycled materials for women who care about the planet.

Sustainably Travel (In Style) 

The beauty of this planet is vast, and it’s important that we protect it at all costs.

Whether you’re picking up trash with us in Boulder Creek or writing legislation to protect endangered species, keep fighting the good fight for the planet!

Let’s get out there and change the world. Join us on our next community project with Blue Verve >

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