"Ecotourism" is a term that describes many types of responsible travel. Common interests of ecotourists include low environmental impact, ecological conservation, respect for different cultures and the betterment of local communities. Types of ecotourism include eco-lodging, agro-tourism, eco-excursions and community development projects, particularly in impoverished areas affected by deforestation and other man-made environmental challenges. Any organization can claim to promote ecotourism. Research individual organizations carefully to determine their integrity.
Ecotourism organizations vary greatly. Some include "eco-resorts," which are simply located in exotic locations, while others offer reforestation projects in environmentally sensitive regions of the world. Some companies offer guided tours, promising tourists an up-close look at endangered species; others help build sustainable homes in impoverished countries. Although many organizations are improving environmental conditions, some companies only use the ecotourism label for financial gain and cause more environmental problems than they alleviate.
The experience of the ecotourist requires a level of social and environmental responsibility. The tourist stands to gain from the experience through increased respect for the locals and the environment, knowledge of the effects of environmental degradation and the acquisition of skills. On the same note, the tourist is an ambassador of sorts, representing the country of her descent. Local people are, likewise, influenced by the ecotourist's behavior. For these reasons, a fine balance exists between benefit and detriment to communities affected by ecotourism.
Environmental, social and economic goals are often in conflict with one another. This is perhaps the greatest potential downfall within the ecotourism industry. Natural area managers, business owners and the members of affected communities are all interested in gaining from this industry. Some organizations promote economic development in struggling communities through the introduction of tourists. Others stand to decrease local support of natural areas as external sources of revenue increase.
Ecotourism increases the interaction between people of different cultures and social norms. The potential exists for increased tolerance, understanding and appreciation both ways. But care must be taken not to create sociocultural problems. Examples of such issues include using cultural symbols as commodities for financial gain, changing the social structure within a community and increasing crime rates due to the disparity between poor communities and seemingly wealthy tourists.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Beth Berry has been writing since 1995 about sustainable farming, fiber arts and parenting. She brings expertise in organic gardening, landscape design and domestic arts to her writing. Berry holds a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from Abilene Christian University and is a master seamstress.
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