Ecotourism is the practice of bringing together sustainable travel practices that promote the conservation of protected natural areas while also benefiting local economies. Ecotourism as a concept began in the 1970s as a part of the larger environmental movement (see References 2). It has now grown into a significant sector of the tourism industry. People planning an eco-vacation can anticipate not only visiting beautiful landscapes but also being educated on the role of protecting biologically diverse areas and supporting local cultures and economies.
Ecotourism offers a unique opportunity for tourists to contribute to the conservation of protected habitats, wildlife refuges and parks. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, "Where areas have been officially reserved for nature conservation, many developing-country governments lack sufficient funds to manage and protect them" (see References 3). The money spent by tourists to visit protected natural areas helps raise funds to continue to protect those areas for future generations.
Impact on Local Economies
Local economies benefit from ecotourism when tourist-related industries build up in support of these activities. For example, tour agencies, local craft markets, hotels and restaurants all benefit from a thriving tourist economy. According to the International Ecotourism Society, "By increasing capacity building opportunities, ecotourism is also an effective vehicle for empowering local communities around the world to fight against poverty and to achieve sustainable development." (See References 2)
Social and Cultural Awareness
One of the main goals of ecotourism is to increase the awareness tourists have about the social conditions surrounding a travel destination. Such conditions as poverty are often hidden from tourists. Ecotourism aims to expose tourists to the realities of social and economic climates in an area. For example, rather than visiting a nature preserve in Africa without receiving any information on the lives of local people surrounding and working to protect the preserve, ecotourism educates travelers on the interdependent relationship between conservation, sustainability and the real life of local communities. The International Ecotourism Society describes one of the main principles of ecotourism as building cultural awareness and respect for local people and customs (see References 1).
Ecotourism works to combine travel with educational opportunities on sustainability and conversation. Ecotourism educates travelers on the value of protecting natural areas and resources and introduces travelers to concepts of sustainability within local communities and economies. Tourists are not the only ones who are educated by participating in ecotourism. When an emphasis in a community is placed on protecting a natural area and its resources, and an economy builds in support of those protective efforts, local people are also educated about sustainability and conservation practices that will benefit their community (see References 3).
Erika Sanders has been writing since 1997. She teaches writing at the Washington State Reformatory and edits the monthly newsletter for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, a national nonprofit organization. She received her Master of Fine Arts in fiction from the Solstice Program at Pine Manor College in Boston.
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