Eco Tourism: What is it? Does it matter?

November 16, 2015 in Inspiration

Tres Chimbatas guide
Today’s prompt on the Indie Travel Challenge, with BootsnAll, brought me back to something I’ve been noodling for a while now.

The idea of eco-tourism…

It’s become somewhat of a buzz word in the travel world. The idea being marketed (and it is heavily marketed) is that of a lower impact, “greener,” way of seeing the world. Like all things that are trendy, it’s done well, and it’s done badly, and it’s up to the consumer to suss out the legitimate good being done from they hype around it.

Eco-tourism is marketed most heavily in areas where conservation is underway and where the risk to the natural world seems greater. I visited my first “eco-lodge” this year in the Amazon rainforest in Peru. We spent two weeks there. No electricity. Water pumped into a tank and gravity fed, unheated, for showers and toilets. Oil lamps were burned at dusk and a generator was run sparingly. The entire place was built from natural, locally sourced materials and the folks who worked there spent as much effort on curating their corner of the rainforest as they did on guest services.

I spent a good amount of time talking to the folks who made that place their lives and became convinced that these well-done, eco-lodges could represent the path forward in conservation for places as fragile and encroached upon as the Amazon. The tourist dollars they represent are the only legitimate possibility to replace the dollars generated by the destructive practices that locals have been driven to out of economic desperation.

Lower impact travel

Of course eco-tourism and eco-lodges don’t have the corner on the market. For years conscientious people have been lowering the impact of their journeys by using some common sense and making choices with the planet in mind.

  • Traveling more slowly is “cheaper” for the planet than hopping on planes
  • Homestays are less wasteful than hotel stays
  • “Living local” is “greener” than insisting on first world standards
  • Frequenting small, family run guest houses is often “lower impact” than staying at big resorts or hotels.

Spending our dollars on places that are forward thinking and considering the balance of economic and environmental needs makes sense. Like the hotel we stayed in in Melbourne, Australia, that has bees on the roof, and green planting to offset the carbon footprints.

Purchasing carbon offsets helps.

Lower impact living

Really, it isn’t just about how we travel, it’s about how we live our everyday lives and how that spills over into how we travel. For the planet to survive, we have to reduce consumption. At home, and abroad. It makes me proud to see the number of folks in my generation who are increasing their commitment to eco-living, not just eco-tourism.

For me, I don’t separate the idea of eco-tourism and regular life, perhaps because so much of my regular life has been spent traveling. In all of our lives it’s always been about how to do as much as we can with what we have, materially, economically, and in terms of the time and local resources. The more I travel the more acutely I feel my responsibility to hold up my corner of the social compact for the future generations, and the more acutely I recognize that we could all do better, myself first and foremost.

I’m still thinking about this… and I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the “eco-toursim” movement… the idea is great, but I wonder if, like so many other things, it becomes an oversimplification and a cop out. A way to avoid the hard work of taking personal responsibility.

What are your thoughts? I’m interested.