Ecotravel is a form of sustainable tourism which balances the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development to ensure long-term benefits, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO).
The invention of the term ecotourism was attributed to the Mexican Architect Héctor Ceballos-Lascuráin in 1983. Ceballos told the international ecotourism club Ecoclub that he realised that visiting “relatively undisturbed natural areas could provide strong socio-economic benefits to the host communities.” He wanted to encourage tourists to immerse themselves with natural environments rather than urban areas to gain an interest in conservation.
Ceballos noted that since the 1980s ecotourism has expanded to be inclusive of environmentally friendly tourism in all categories of destination areas.
Ecolodges became popular around this time also. They allow visitors to live completely inside natural environments. The lodges are intended to blend with the landscape around them. The main function is to allow visitors to be in close contact with nature without disturbing it.
Costa Rica is one of the biggest investors in ecotourism and is set to be the first carbon-neutral country by 2021. In 2017, the country ran entirely on renewable energy for 300 days, according to sustainability news site Green Matters.
Ecotourism is more than just a promotion of environment conservation, it also boosts the economy in places that may have previously struggled. The Greenbox was Ireland’s first successful ecotourism area. It covers all of Leitrim and Fermanagh and includes parts of Donegal, Sligo and Cavan. The businesses and industries in the area are involved in sustainable practices of organic food production, transport and waste management.
The travel and tourism industry was the fastest growing industry in 2017 according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. The number of international arrivals is projected to grow by almost 40 per cent by 2030.
More than two-thirds of people booking holidays through Booking.com were looking to stay eco-accommodation in 2018 according to a report by the Centre for Responsible Travel. The main reasons were because travellers were impressed by natural sights and noticed the impact tourism had on the area they visited.
The WTO set up a chain of 25 ecotourism observatories across Europe, North and South America, Indonesia, China, and New Zealand. The aim is to monitor the environmental, economic and social impacts of tourism. The hope is to use the gained evidence to manage tourism in these areas to create sustainable tourist destinations.
Ceballos told Ecoclub that the term ecotourism has been misinterpreted as doing extreme sports such as cliff climbing and hang gliding. Although these sports are centred around the outdoors, they have little focus on preserving the landscape.
Another issue he drew attention to was the building of enclosed villas. These are generally targeted at rich holidaymakers and exclude the surrounding native population who won’t benefit from tourism.
The United Nations has designed a plan to address the 40 per cent increase in tourism called Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The plan uses ecotourism principles to ensure longevity in destination areas.
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