The Beginner’s Guide to Ecotourism

This guide on ecotravel show how communities can unite through conservation and sustainable travel.

Backpacker on suspension bridge in rainforest

Travelling with an eco-conscience has become increasingly popular in the past decade, particularly among young people.

Exotic and adventure travel to threatened and natural environments in support of conservation and wildlife observation has become more appealing to globetrotters.

The term coined to describe this type of travel is “ecotourism.”

A Bit of Background

The ecotourism movement began back in the 1980s, just as the tourism market was evolving from micro business to massive takeover.

The movement sought to address the enormous influx of resorts spreading across Europe, the Americas and other favoured holiday destinations with conservation-minded tourists fighting aggressively to protect the vital ecosystems and habitats damaged from big commercial developments.

The most persuasive argument for ecotourism was that natural land and coastlines, and abundant wildlife were attractions in themselves and tourism based on conservation would provide vital income to areas best left undeveloped. And so the ecotourism wave was born, with vacations that focused solely on bringing people back to nature.

Photographer capturing two mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

Stay Sustainable

The big question that arises from the premise of ecotourism is: is it possible for travel to be genuinely sustainable? The most authentic definition of sustainability is the ability to address the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of the next.

The overarching message of ecotourism is that we strike a balance between what we take from the land and what we give back, and that we should always try to give back more than we take. It also advocates against over-development of areas that can never be returned to their original state, regardless of how hard we try.

The balance is in recognizing that growth and development can be useful, but not if they come at the cost of future generations.

The goal of ecotourism should be to unite communities through conservation and sustainable travel, meaning that travellers should adopt principles of minimizing their physical, behavioural, social and psychological impact while building environmental and cultural awareness and respect and providing financial benefits for conservation, local people and private industry.

Beautiful shooting of how Brazilian Native lives in Brazil Sustainable Lifestyle

A Better Way to Travel

According to Green Global Travel, “Some experts (estimate) that ecotourism now represents 11.4% of all consumer spending.”

These days, ecotourism is considered one of the fastest-growing sections of the travel industry (around 5% annually), contributing roughly 6% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Education is paramount when it comes to this type of travel – for locals and tourists alike. Significant efforts are focused on familiarizing people to environmental issues, raising awareness and encouraging travellers to be conscious and think about their impact on the places they visit.

Some tour companies establish conservation programs for local schools, while others offer expositive guides, guest lecturers and naturalists to help expand travellers’ understanding of their experiences.

Immersive experiences with local people and cultures are also becoming increasingly popular. These experiences tend to focus more on appreciation and interaction than exploiting the local population.

Girls hiking in the mountains

Tricks of the Trade

Becoming a more conscious, responsible traveller is the best way to ensure that one’s experience is positive for both the local people as well as the planet.

Packing light saves money on checking a bag and also increases plane fuel-efficiency. The rule of quality over quantity applies, and “smart” packing of clothing that can be washed in the sink and dried quickly is ideal to ensure items can be worn multiple times during a trip.

Taking shorter showers and turning taps off when brushing teeth or shaving can significantly contribute to a more sustainable journey. Always reuse towels. It is essential to try to not use hotel laundry services, as they generally wash all guest’s clothes separately, regardless of the number of items.

It should be a habit wherever you are, but always turn off the lights, TV and AC/heat before you leave hotel or hostel rooms. Where the local water is potable, invest in a reusable water bottle to decrease the amount of plastic usage and, to avoid the overuse of harsh chemical cleaning supplies and electricity from vacuuming and washing bedding, use the “do not disturb” sign as much as possible so that your room is not cleaned every day.

Shot of a young woman drinking fresh water from a mountain lake while hiking in the mountains, shot in Savoie, France

As cliche as it sounds, try to adhere to the “take only pictures, leave only footprintsmentality.

It is easy to opt for the all-inclusive resort package, but fully immersing yourself in a culture and having those genuine experiences is by far a more rewarding experience that will make you feel as if you have lived in a place and not just visited it.

rear view of woman exploring the desert in sunny day, hiker in the wild.