What is ecotourism and sustainable tourism?

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Ecotourism vs. sustainable tourism

Ecotourism and sustainable tourism – two words often used interchangeably, but ultimately leading to the same idea: positively impactful travel.

Ecotourism is more general in terms of its core concepts: it focuses on travelling to natural places with efforts to preserve the beauty of the area, while also benefiting the local population.  

Sustainable tourism builds on ecotourism but goes deeper with a more defined approach: its purpose is to properly reduce the negative impact of travel by taking into account the environmental, social, and cultural aspects of tourism. 

Why do ecotourism and sustainable tourism matter?

Both ecotourism and sustainable tourism allow travellers, as well as touristic businesses to be more mindful of their impact, encouraging both parties to actively find ways to reduce their carbon footprint while preserving the local culture and nature.

This in turn helps to tackle issues such as climate change, pollution, displacement of locals due to over tourism, loss of wildlife and endemic species, deterioration of natural resources, or empowering large international businesses rather than locals.

What are the various components of ecotourism?

Ecotourism focuses on the natural beauty of the place, along with how that supports the local people. Ecotourism aims to involve local communities in tourist activities, respect their rights, and reduce the environmental impact of tourism. 

stonehenge England
Stonehenge, England

More specifically, ecotourism can include:

  1. Eco friendly accommodation.
  2. Physical activities in nature with a low carbon footprint (such as hiking, kayaking, etc.).
  3. Cultural education about the area and the local inhabitants.
  4. Agricultural tourism, whereby visitors can help out with activities such as farming or cleanup programs.

What are the components of sustainable tourism?

The World Tourism Organisation defines sustainable tourism as tourism that meets the satisfaction of tourists but also protects and provides opportunities to the host countries. “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impact, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”

What are the three pillars of sustainable tourism?

Tourism has three main aspects: economic, social and cultural, and environmental. As such, when we talk about sustainable tourism, these are three pillars that we focus on. 

The economic pillar

eco green accommodation
Nido Verde, a local eco hotel near Amalfi Coast

The economic pillar of sustainable tourism means that as tourists, we help to contribute to the local economy by buying from local-owned shops, eating at local restaurants, staying at hotels run by the local communities rather than large resorts, and booking tours with local guides rather than big travel companies. 

The social and cultural pillar

Prambanan Temple performance, Indonesia

The social pillar includes supporting NGOs, community projects, and contributing to local companies that treat their employees fairly and offer decent working conditions. The cultural aspect is about helping to preserve the heritage of the host country, while being respectful of the traditions and customs. 

The environmental pillar

sustainable tourism
Botanical Gardens, Mauritius

The main thing that comes to mind upon hearing about sustainability is the environmental factor. This means lowering our carbon footprint, reducing our plastic, food, and water waste, participating in tourist activities run by responsible local companies, and making an effort to not damage wildlife and natural ecosystems. 

At Travel Conscious, we focus on sustainable tourism. Find out more about Travel Conscious’ mission and values.

What is a carbon footprint and how is it related to sustainable tourism?

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases we create when we produce or consume products and services. 

Greenhouse gas such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb heat coming from the earth’s surface and spread it all over the planet.

While some heat is important for life to exist on earth (like green carbon), too much heat contributes to climate change. This leads to ice caps melting, rising sea levels, fresh water shortage, and extreme weather events like floods and droughts. 

Tourism contributes to 8% of the world’s carbon emission. Flying is a major contributor to the release of carbon emissions. A few other examples of things that contribute to your carbon footprint are driving, using air conditioning, food waste, and motor-boat trips.

Calculate your carbon footprint.

How can I become a sustainable traveller or ecotourist?

Contrary to popular belief, it is not that difficult to start your journey to being a sustainable traveller or ecotourist. As with most new habits, start gradually and remain consistent.

Remember that you don’t have to be a “perfect” ecotourist in order to make a positive impact or reduce your carbon footprint. Small things that you do matter, and is already a huge step in the right direction.

Here are some tips on how to become a sustainable traveller:

  1. Try to avoid flying and take trains instead. If this is not possible, take non-stop flights or flights with the smallest number of layovers.
  2. Avoid cruise ships.
  3. Offset your carbon footprint by contributing to various carbon offset projects.
  4. Avoid large international hotels. Book boutique hotels that are eco friendly.
  5. Pack light.
  6. Reuse your towels at the hotel as much as possible.
  7. Say no to the individual bathroom toiletries in plastic packaging.
  8. Book with local guides rather than large international booking companies.
  9. Avoid wild animal interactions like walking with lions, petting tigers, riding elephants. Instead visit animal conservation centres or rehabilitation centres.
  10. Wear eco-friendly sunscreen.
  11. Use kayaks, sailboats, or stand up paddles to explore the ocean rather than catamarans and speedboats.
  12. Eat local and seasonal food.
  13. Buy souvenirs that are locally produced.
  14. Dress appropriately for specific countries and respect their customs and traditions.
  15. Always ask before taking photos of anyone.
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