What is Ecotourism?
Tourism is currently seeing a boost unlike any other time in history. While this is a good thing, it has taken a toll on our environment. Nature and local communities are sacrificed in the name of profits, just to accommodate the ever-increasing number of tourists every year.
That’s why sustainable tourism, or ecotourism, should be a top priority for everyone on the planet. But what does ecotourism mean? And is it effective?
Today we’ll explain the concept of ecotourism and how it benefits everyone as a whole. We’ll also talk about who can be considered an ‘eco tourist’ and the steps you can take to become one.
The Ecotourism Definition
The simplest way to explain the concept of ecotourism is with two words: traveling responsibly.
Simply put, ecotourism is tourism that centers around awareness of the environment and the local community. As eco-tourists, the goal is to visit an area with the well-being of the local people and nature in mind. Not only should you respect their home, but you should actively improve it whenever you can.
However, this is easier said than done. Ecotourism can be a very complex topic despite having straightforward goals.
Ecotourism is a booming industry in the broader tourism sector, and it’s getting a lot of attention—both good and bad. The latter, unfortunately, exploits this by luring tourists into “eco-friendly” getaways that aren’t helping the local environment at all.
When done right, however, ecotourism creates a lasting impact on local communities and ecosystems for years to come.
There are many ways to approach ecotourism, but most share a few common elements. One of the most important is tourism education. Successful ecotourism begins with the tourist being aware of the impact they are making on the places they visit. Only then can they take active steps to help protect the local ecosystem.
Education also extends to teaching tourists important conservation efforts like recycling, reducing water consumption, and promoting local crafts instead of mass-produced souvenirs.
That’s why ecotourism works best when done in small or medium-sized groups. Doing it at a mass scale isn’t only practical, it’s also ineffective.
There’s also a misconception that ecotourism makes a vacation “strict” or “boring”. Actually, ecotourism can make your trip much more enjoyable and meaningful. You’ll leave the place of your visit with a better understanding and appreciation of the local culture and environment. More importantly, you’ll gain a sense of fulfillment from having made a difference in the lives of the people and animals you left behind.
What are the Goals of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is all about balancing the need for profits (to sustain operations) with long term sustainability. The focus, of course, is more on the latter.
The overarching goal of ecotourism is to create experiences that benefit everyone equally, not just the tourist and stakeholders. This means protecting the local ecosystem and natural resources. It also involves giving local people a living wage while helping them preserve their communities and culture.
While the goal is simple, the implementation is not. There are many factors and opposing needs involved. To make it easier, here are a set of criteria for achieving ecotourism.
Environmental and cultural awareness
Successful ecotourism needs a way to educate tourists to raise their awareness of their environment. The most common way to do this is immersion with the locals. In this way, tourists get a glimpse of their culture and way of life, while building an appreciation of their surroundings in the process. Some operators also conduct educational programs in schools and local communities to spread awareness.
Benefit for the local community
The next goal of ecotourism is that it should provide a clear benefit to the local community. The way of doing this is through companies providing jobs or donating some of the profit back to the local community. Naturally, their basic human rights should be respected. It’s also best to get the locals involved in every decision the tourist company makes.
Benefit for the environment
Lastly, the ecotourism initiative should have a clear benefit for the environment as well. Part of the profit generated by the ecotourism company should go into nature conservation efforts.
The activities, structures, and accommodations made by the ecotourism company should also leave a minimal carbon footprint. Using sustainable materials and sources of energy is one way of accomplishing this. Doing small tour groups so as not to disturb the local wildlife is another. Whatever the method, it should have a positive, not just neutral, effect on the environment.
What Does Ecotourism Mean For Turtle Island
Turtle Island Fiji resort and its surrounding landscape is known to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Fiji has one of the world’s most magnificent beaches, and boasts a diverse selection of flora and fauna. Plus, it’s where amazing and hospitable people live.
Turtle Island is a pioneer in conservation and sustainable tourism practices and naturally, we would love to see everyone visit our private island paradise for the next 100 years or more. We’ve practiced sustainable travel since our founding in 1980 and have been working towards this dream with our ecotourism efforts. After all, we weren’t named a “Green Hotelier of the Year” for nothing.
For over 40 years Turtle Island’s founder has committed to a quadruple bottom line decision making process in everything that he did which resulted in Turtle Island establishing itself as one of the world’s leading eco-lodges. Any developments on the Island needed to make financial sense, have environmental integrity, benefit the local people, and celebrate the heritage and culture of the place. Turtle Island’s key pillars of community, culture, commerce and conservation and connection continue to guide Turtle Island’s practices to this day.
Ecotourism has helped protect the Island’s environment. Sustainably built facilities such as ours help conserve the island’s natural resources. Our accommodations and internal furnishings are made from sustainable recycled materials, which include fallen tree limbs gathered from the Island’s forests.
Reforestation of cleared areas gives animals an excellent habitat to live on. We’ve planted over half a million trees on the Island encouraging biodiversity, re-establishing indigenous forests and adding to the Island’s natural beauty.
Sustainable energy, such as solar, helps avoid the use of dirty fossil fuels. Our solar farm was completed in 2013 making Turtle Island one of the first island resorts in the world to be self-sufficient and to light the way towards a clean energy future.
When the environment is protected, it has a positive impact on Turtle Island’s wildlife as well.
One of the most beautiful but endangered species on this island is the sea turtle. We funnel some of the revenue from our ecotourism operations into the conservation of this magnificent animal. Our Turtle Conservation Program in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund helps save the lives of these endangered creatures. Local fishermen bring sea turtles that are accidentally caught to Turtle Island where they are measured, weighed, tagged, and released back into the ocean. The data collected by our team such as weight, size, and distinctive markings are sent to the World Wildlife Fund and helps save turtles by supporting scientists and researchers. We also give our guests, especially kids, a glimpse into our conservation efforts, so that they might have a better appreciation of it.
Lastly, ecotourism has a significant impact on the way of life of the local Fijians in the islands. Employing the majority of our staff from the local villages in our community, our eco-resort has given these warm and hospitable people a chance to earn a living wage without having to sacrifice their culture and identity. This also allows them to continue protecting the unspoiled beauty of the islands so that future generations may enjoy it as they do.
How to Put the Ecotourism Principles in Action
Ecotourism companies can only do so much in protecting the local environment. At the end of the day, becoming a responsible eco-tourist will have the most significant impact.
An eco-tourist is one who is aware of the places they visit and do everything possible to help improve that. You can become one today by following a few simple steps:
First, always be more conscious of your water and electricity usage even when you’re in your hotel room. Turn off the lights and TV when you plan to go out.
It’s also a good idea to put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door and reuse towels if you can. This reduces the water, electricity, and cleaning chemicals used by the staff in tidying up your room.
It’s also helpful to get into the habit of recycling and reusing everything as much as you can. Use a reusable BPA-free water bottle, so you don’t need to use a plastic mineral water bottle. Consider putting back the brochure or maps after you use them so they can be reused.
When buying souvenirs or looking for activities to do, always look for local, sustainable options. Opt for souvenirs made by the locals using sustainable materials. Meet the locals and embrace their culture.
Whatever you do, don’t leave trash or anything behind.
Book Your Next Ecotourism Trip
If you’re inspired thus far to book your next ecotourism trip, a fair warning—make sure you do your research!
There are plenty of tourism operators out there who are just riding the ecotourism wave. They pose as ecotourism companies, but are not doing anything beneficial for the environment at all. Some may even make a negative impact on the local environment and communities on which they operate.
So research any companies, hotels, or tour groups carefully. Take a look at their website and see what their initiatives are in protecting the wildlife and local community. Ask them about their carbon footprint, and if they offer any cultural immersion activities. A true ecotourism company will be proud of this fact, and will happily walk you through the steps they take to be eco-friendly.
Even if you’re not booking accommodations or tours with an ecotourism company, you can always practice the principles in your own way. Most airlines have a carbon offset program you can avail of. Then it’s all about practicing ecotourism principles yourself wherever you go.
At Turtle Island, we care about the environment and local culture as much as we care about giving you an unforgettable Fiji vacation. If you want to experience ecotourism at its finest, we invite you to book your stay with us. The breathtaking beauty, delicious cuisine, and warm people of Fiji await!