With its emphasis on responsible travel, ecotourism benefits the environment, local economies, and visitors alike. From ecologically sensitive resorts to stand-alone activities, many worldwide destinations offer ways to reduce negative effects on the environment while at the same time enjoying unique travel experiences.
The design, construction, and maintenance of eco-resorts utilizes environmentally friendly principles and technologies suited to the particular area. For instance, in the Caribbean, elevating buildings and walkways leaves ground vegetation mostly undisturbed. This prevents soil erosion and runoff, which would damage beaches and coral reefs. Building around trees as often as possible instead of cutting them down also helps, as well as keeping buildings cool by providing shade. Collected rainwater supplies water for restrooms, showers, and laundry. Solar energy heats the water and creates electricity.
Lodgings run the gamut, from structures originally built for other uses to new construction. The most basic accommodations may be as simple as a wood frame covered with light fabric. More traditional buildings may incorporate recycled or sustainable building materials, such as plastic lumber or bamboo.
Because they’re often located in more remote areas, eco-resorts face additional challenges, particularly with waste disposal. Buying goods in bulk reduces packaging. Creative recycling and reuse of items also limits the amount of trash sent to landfills. Using office paper on both sides, then shredding it for use as packing material, extends its life. Composting toilets and other water treatments provide resorts with water and compost for gardens and surrounding habitats.
Maho Bay Camps in the U.S. Virgin Islands even gets guests involved in their efforts. Their Trash to Treasure Art Center offers arts and crafts workshops in glass, clay, and textiles using recycled materials. Some of the high-quality pieces made in the workshops go to the gift shop for sale. At the “help yourself” center, guests can leave items they don’t want (like books, sunscreen, and dry goods) or take items they need.
Eco-resorts allow wild places to stay wild. In addition to conserving nature, they employ local workers and often encourage visitors to patronize local attractions and businesses. While these things may ease guests’ consciences, the biggest payoff for travelers is the opportunity to experience an area’s authentic character.
For those who prefer an active vacation over staying in one spot, eco-tours provide a hassle-free alternative. As with eco-resorts, however, the extent of eco-friendliness varies considerably. Some tours thoroughly immerse travelers in their destination. Transportation may include city buses, canoes, or hiking. Similarly, tourists may stay in tents, a villager’s home, or small, locally-owned hotels. Although well-known attractions may be on the list of activities, places off the beaten path are frequently emphasized. On the other end of the spectrum, some tours arrange stays in first-class hotels, dining at the finest restaurants, and private transportation.
In spite of their differences, eco-tours share similar outlooks. Keeping group sizes small (usually no more than sixteen people) ensures a more intimate experience, as well as lessening the impact of travel. Even larger tours, such as cruises, try to arrange a variety of outings limited to a small number of people. Common goals include preserving the indigenous nature, culture, and traditions of travel destinations. Many tour companies also support conservation or community organizations. Some tours directly involve travelers in philanthropic work by scheduling activities such as a day helping to build a house.
Eco-adventures center on nature pursuits, such as bird watching, kayaking, hiking, and snorkeling. They strive not just to entertain participants but to educate them. Teaching people about the associated nature, wildlife, and history promotes respect for the environment.
With all the advantages ecotourism offers, helping to maintain the environment makes sense for businesses, communities, and travelers. For more information, visit The International Ecotourism Society at www.ecotourism.org .