Did you know that just because you’re participating in an activity set in the natural environment it doesn’t mean you actually participating in ecotourism? In fact, most people (including myself at one stage) who think they are participating in an authentic ecotourism experience are not and this all done by some clever marketing and misleading labeling.
So let’s clear up all the confusion! There are four broad nature categories that travellers fit into: Nature Based Tourism, Wildlife Tourism, Adventure Travel and Ecotourism.
Nature Based Tourism is any travelling experience in the environment: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Wildlife Tourism is obviously as it suggests, is any travelling experience where you get to interact with or observe animals and wait for this, it includes hunting (which is an important tourism activity for many destinations).
Adventure Travel is what New Zealand and Canada do best, and usually includes activities where your life is put on the line but you get the best outdoor view in the house!
Finally we come to Ecotourism which is a nature based experience and here is the difference, which provides an educational and interpretive benefit to the traveller using sustainable measures to prevent degradation to the site, prevent loss of ownership by community and maintains it for future use. Hmmm that ‘eco’ 4wd trip doesn’t sound so ecotourism any more does it? The hard part is, it can be measured in whole lot of ways. Some die hard environmental travellers believe merely being in the environment is unsustainable, whilst others believe a tour group of 100 people is perfectly sustainable. So, it really comes down to the operator and community to manage it all.
Ecotourism has developed as the answer to many of the negatives of tourism and has been readily adapted by operators who are keen to cash in on travellers needs for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly travelling experience. Whilst it’s not always the business operators fault, especially considering if you look up the United Nations detailed description of ecotourism, often business simply “greenwash” us as they don’t fully understand what’s required.
So if you’re after an ecotourism experience, make sure you check for accreditations, past customer experiences as well as recommendations from trusted organisations. For example in Australia, ecotourism operators can complete an Eco Certification program by Ecotourism Australia which means they tick all the boxes! Often ecotourism can provide a unique and authentic experience in the destination you visit and more times than not, allows you to get closer to the culture and people of the places you visit.
The aim of my rambles isn’t to change your nature travel preferences, its more to provide travellers with a clearer knowledge of what we’re purchasing, the experiences available and to make sure we’re all getting what we paid for. If the brochure says ecotourism then make sure the provider is supplying a sustainable experience, not just a well marketed tour to rob you of your hard earned travelling dollars as well as hurting the pockets of companies doing the right thing!