Ecotourism is a form of environmentally friendly tourism which involves people visiting fragile, unspoilt areas that are usually protected. Ecotourism is designed to be low impact and small scale.

Ecotourism resort
Ecotourism resort

Tourist facilities are made to blend-in with the natural environment, food is sourced locally and waste is usually managed on-site. The numbers of tourists allowed are low to ensure minimal disturbance to the environment, but this increases the cost of trips for visitors.

The main concept of ecotourism is sustainability to enable future generations to experience places which have been relatively untouched by humans.

Ecotourism is quickly becoming an important industry for many developing countries to bring in foreign income while at the same time, preserving some of their most fragile environments.

This can be achieved by some countries preserving their rainforests, as ecotourists pay to see a country's natural beauty, not the destruction caused by the exploitation of natural resources.

Ecotourism activities should:

  • Cause minimal impact on the environment and local people.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and sustainability.
  • Provide economic benefits and empower local people, as ecotourism should be managed by locals.
  • Increase visitors' understanding of the country's political, environmental and social circumstances.
  • Encourage stewardship and conservation of the natural environment.
  • Respect local traditions, eg dressing appropriately so as not to cause offence, especially in religious buildings.

Causes of/reasons for ecotourism

  • Developing countries now want to conserve their fragile environments and view ecotourism as a significant method of generating income.
  • Developed countries want to help developing countries conserve their fragile environments by promoting sustainable tourism.
  • Tourists want to experience a visit to unspoilt environments.
  • Many travellers are bored with run-of-the-mill package holidays and want to try something different.
  • Tourists are now more environmentally conscious and want to help conserve fragile environments for future generations.

Positive impact of ecotourism on people

  • Ecotourism can provide local people with employment opportunities, eg park rangers, cooks and cleaners in lodges. This employment provides an income which is often higher than they would receive from selling their crops.
  • Education is improved as locals are trained as wildlife guides, improving their family's standard of living and lifestyle.
  • Local communities can earn extra income from the creation of handicrafts which they can sell to tourists.
  • Ecotourism fosters respect for local cultures and the environment and increases the awareness of conservation.
  • Teachers who have taken part in ecotourism trips can teach young people to realise the importance of the principles and practices of ecotourism, promoting cultural understanding and environmental awareness.

Negative impact of ecotourism on people

  • Locals can be exploited in various ways, such as using them for cheap labour.
  • Local people lose their traditional way of life as they become accustomed to 'Western' cultures.
  • Some locals are used as attractions to enable tourists to get traditional photos of indigenous people.
  • Many companies who run ecotourism trips profit most, while local people earn very little money.
  • Infrastructure is often only beneficial to tourists, eg airports as local people cannot afford to use it.

Positive impact of ecotourism on the environment

  • Money spent directly in the local economy helps give financial value to rainforest preservation.
  • The government and local communities can see the importance of ensuring the rainforest is unspoiled.
  • Most tourists are willing to pay for conservation through donations, park entrance fees and tips for guides.
  • Ecotourism can reduce the need to hunt animals for income.
  • With ecotourism, income is earned from preserving the rainforest - deforestation is discouraged, as it is detrimental to income from tourists.
  • Money from tourists goes back into the conservation of the area.

Negative impact of ecotourism on the environment

  • Ecotourism is now a large industry and there are not enough regulations to control how it is operated.
  • The destruction of local resources to make room for ecotourism is a problem, eg trees felled to make lodges for tourists.
  • Natural resources are destroyed to make souvenirs.
  • Rare species are hunted down to use as tourist attractions.
  • Destruction of natural features, eg overused tracks lead to soil erosion and damage to vegetation.
  • There is a real danger of some areas becoming overused.
  • Tourist hotels sometimes dump waste into rivers causing water pollution.