Sustainable tourism and ecotourism are two of the fastest growing trends in the travel industry, but often we find the two terms lumped in together to mean exactly the same thing. So what exactly is the difference between ecotourism and sustainable tourism?
In this article, we’ll outline the key differences between the two concepts, and provide examples of how they are being used on the front line of the travel industry’s fight against climate change.
What is Ecotourism?
The key thing to remember about ecotourism is that as a concept, it relates to a specific type of tourism that takes visitors to see areas of natural beauty, whilst having an emphasis on the preservation of the wildlife and nature in the area being visited.
Examples might include safaris, bird-watching, hiking in national parks or protected ecological areas, or any type of holiday that gets tourists closer to nature in a way that leaves no mark on the environment, and has no negative impact on the wildlife that lives within it.
In general, these holidays and tours are run by small-scale operators that work to minimise their physical impact on the environment, whether that’s by minimising plastic usage, or implementing tour policies that encourage visitors to stick to marked footpaths and leave no trace of their visit.
There is also a large educational aspect to ecotourism. For many of us, the plight of, say, the cloud forest in Costa Rica is an issue that is so far removed from our normal lives that it’s easy to ignore.
By immersing tourists in these environments, and by getting them up close to the tropical birds, sloths, and other animals that rely on this beautiful but delicately balanced ecosystem, operators can press home the importance of ecotourism and show visitors how they can travel more sustainably in the future.
Alongside all this, money made through ecotourism often goes back into projects that are aimed at protecting and rewilding areas of natural beauty. Whether that’s a tree planting scheme, the protection of endangered species or green energy programmes, the idea is that ecotourism aims to pump money back into protecting the environment that it is promoting.
The International Ecotourism Society describes defines as ecotourism as
“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”
Examples of Ecotourism
From wildlife holidays in Costa Rica to elephant sanctuaries in Cambodia, there are so many examples of countries that strive towards the ecotourism ideal. Here are a few examples of places where ecotourism makes up most of the tourism in a location, some of which we promote experiences in, some of which we hope to promote experiences in at some point in the near future…
Costa Rica: Costa Rica is widely recognized as a leader in ecotourism. The country is home to numerous national parks and protected areas, and offers visitors opportunities to explore rainforests, beaches, and wildlife. Eco-lodges and sustainable tourism practices are common in Costa Rica.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: The Galapagos Islands are a popular ecotourism destination due to their unique wildlife and plant species. The islands are home to numerous endangered species, including the Galapagos tortoise, and are heavily protected by the Ecuadorian government.
Bhutan: Bhutan is a small Himalayan country that is known for its commitment to sustainable development and cultural preservation. Ecotourism is an important part of Bhutan’s economy, and visitors can explore the country’s many natural and cultural attractions.
Cape Town, South Africa: Cape Town is a city that is committed to sustainable tourism practices. Visitors can take part in eco-friendly tours and activities, such as hiking, whale watching, and conservation programs.
Cambodia: A country that boasts stunning rainforest areas, pristine coastline and magical wildlife, it is now championing ecotourism as the best way to travel within its borders. From working with elephant sanctuaries to discovering marine life in the Gulf of Thailand, ecotourism in Cambodia is alive and well.