The concept of travel has undergone a tectonic shift in the past 300 years, starting from exploration, discovery and education in the 18th century to the mass tourism of modern times. Educational travel became fashionable with the upper bourgeoisie in the era of enlightenment as sons belonging to noble families were sent on an educational Grand Tour of Central Europe, Italy and Spain. Mass tourism became popular in the 20th century, reflecting advances in transportation technology, social reforms and paid holidays for the working class. And Eco-tourism is emerging as the phenomenon of this century. Eco-tourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and enhances the well-being of local people. The United Nations recognized the importance of ecotourism by declaring the year 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
Ecotourism is the most prominent space in the tourism industry. Vietnam, Kenya and Cameroon are exotic locales that spring to mind when one thinks of environmentally-friendly tourism. Ecotourism involves environmental conservation and sensitivity to the local situation. It respects the local wildlife, employs natives, and takes recourse to eco-friendly transportation, hotels and shopping, thereby minimizing environmental damage and ensuring optimal benefits for the local population.
Eco-friendly travel is not a fad. Many hotels worldwide are initiating a plethora of ‘green’ measures, including reusing towels and providing common transportation for the guests. Rooms that automatically turn off electricity, solar panels on the rooftop and water recycling systems are eco-friendly practices that have become commonplace across the travel industry. A special mention must be made of World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers (WWOOF), which is an international NGO founded in England in 1971. WWOOF offers opportunities to live, work and acquire agricultural techniques on more than 12,000 farms in 60 countries.
Global warming and its impact is the major growth driver of the global ecotourism market. The desire to escape the humdrum of daily lives and take adventurous routes untouched by modern civilization is also nudging the move towards eco-tourism. Moreover, ecotourism is of special interest to true-blue travel buffs that prefer uncharted territory.
Ways to Travel Eco-Friendly
Packing light has a huge environmental impact. If a bag weighs light, the plane will weigh less to an equivalent degree, the bus ride and car drive will be just as light, and these changes will cumulatively translate into lower fuel consumption.
Use Public Transportation
Public Transportation such as buses and trains are the greenest modes of land travel as they consume a low amount of fuel per passenger compared to a car. And walking not only beats them all on the ‘green’ scale, but is also an ideal way of experiencing a place, and is great for personal health as well. In fact, the availability of excellent railway infrastructure makes trains a viable alternative to flying in USA, Europe and in many parts of Asia. To top it, the famed Eurostar rail line has a dedicated eco-friendly program aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
Consuming local food and products is probably the wisest choice at the disposal of a traveler. It means that the goods have not been driven across the country by some fuel-guzzling private vehicles at prohibitive environmental costs. Moreover, buying the local produce encourages the community businesses and is one of the ‘tastiest’ means of exploring a destination. Going vegan is also a good option as the meat and dairy industry is a big culprit of the greenhouse effect.
A traveler can go a step further by buying local, as lugging products all the way from the home country adds to the weight of the luggage and trigger a cascading effect in terms of carbon footprints, etc. He should also make use re-useable bags while shopping as plastic bags create havoc with the environment.
Leave No Traces
The golden rule of travel is that footprints should be the only things to be left behind. Some eco-travelers are going further to suggest that a place should be left even better than it was. This can be done by undertaking small tasks such as picking up and tossing the scattered trash into waste containers so as to keep the earth and ocean clean. The peace and tranquility of a nature trip can both rejuvenate the soul and go easy on the environmental footprint.
Importance of Ecotourism
When we think of travel, we envision beautiful places, unique food and encounters with people who are different. Eco-tourism does much more that that by facilitating a cultural immersion and an authentic experience, and memories that would last a lifetime.
Ecotourism can be a moving experience in knowing a tourist destination from the inside, growing in love and admiration for the place, and being inspired to protect it. Ecotourism also adds a new perspective to life by unveiling the environmental significance of unfamiliar lands.
Ecotourism provides some stability to the local communities that live off their land and depend on nature for everything. This is in stark contrast to large travel companies that only confine themselves to the well-known places on the tourist circuit, do not give anything back to the local communities and are solely driven by the profit motive.
Lower Carbon Footprint
Commuting is a major part of the travel experience and leaves an immense amount of carbon footprints, especially while using planes and private vehicles. Ecotourism offers adventurous ways of cutting back on polluting transport, by introducing unique types of shared transportation that each city provides and encouraging participating in guided tours on foot.
To end, ecotourism is a booming industry and is here to stay. The younger travelers, especially the millennial generation, are looking for experiences rather than luxurious resorts, and are willing to spend more to get there.