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Responsible Travel

Defining Ecotourism and Responsible Tourism

By Ron Mader

The term "ecotourism" seems to have a different definition for everyone. While the details vary, most definitions of ecotourism boil down to a special form of tourism that meets three criteria:

  1. It provides for conservation measures;
  2. It includes meaningful community participation;
  3. It is profitable and can sustain itself.

These three components of ecotourism are difficult to accomplish individually, let alone as a package. Moreover, they are difficult to measure or quantify. Assuming you wanted to know which are the "best ecotourism destinations," the question must follow: How is one to judge?

Membership in groups such as The International Ecotourism Society requires only the payment of a membership fee. Members sign a pledge stating that they will be a "responsible traveler or travel-related professional who conserves natural environments and sustains the well-being of local people."

While this ethic sounds good and this self-regulatory system boasts the best of intentions, it lacks any system of double-checking information and no "teeth." If projects are to be considered ecotourism, they must include local participation and they must assist conservation efforts. This is not to say that tourism services that don't include these components are bad. They simply are not ecotourism.

We need to pay special attention to the consequences of ecotourism—some of which are negative impacts to both local cultures and the environment.

“Responsible tourism” calls attention to the fact that much of tourism simply is not responsible. Locals are exploited. Natural or cultural resources are treated with disrespect.

For travelers, responsible travel is simply treating others with the same respect you would ask for in your own community. While the tourism industry has long touted "destinations," in fact we are simply entering someone else's home.