Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela (Albemarle), the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador – Photo courtesy of Flickr user Elias Rovielo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

World - Can environmental conservation and tourism exist together harmoniously?

Exploring the pros and cons of ecotourism

Fancy taking an environmentally friendly trip to the Amazon, Alaska or Western Australia’s Kimberley region? Highly regarded organisations such as National Geographic and WWF (World Wildlife Fund) offer plenty of enticing travel options, such as Antarctica.

In its promotional material, National Geographic boasts about its sustainable travel options:

…wildlife encounters and hands-on conservation experiences will provide information and inspiration for travelers to continue protecting the world and its creatures long after returning home.

Many people view ecotourism positively, associating it with environmental conservation and the preservation of threatened wildlife. When searching ecotourism, envious images abound: sunbaking on isolated, pristine beaches; snorkelling in enchanting coral reefs; trekking in remote wildernesses and mountains; tourists immersing themselves in local cultures.

There have been many attempts to define the term. For example, in Australia, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science, the guardian of the State’s national parks and forests, has a detailed explanation:

Ecotourism encompasses nature-based activities that increase visitor appreciation and understanding of natural and cultural values. They are experiences that are managed to ensure they are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable, contributing to the wellbeing and conservation of the natural areas and local communities where they operate.

Similarly, Wikipedia’s take says:

Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving responsible travel (using sustainable transport) to natural areas, conserving the environment, and improving the well-being of the local people.

Responsible ecotourism programs include those that minimize the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment and enhance the cultural integrity of local people.

Ecotourism often involves small-group, expensive travel, with accommodation and meals of high quality. Visiting remote parts of the planet is high on many people’s bucket lists.

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