Ecotourism has been hailed as a win/win proposition for conservation, the host country, the traveler, and the
industry. The reality is more complex. Much of what is marketed as
environmentally responsible travel is "ecotourism lite"-simply nature or
adventure tourism with a new name, or conventional cruise or beach holidays with
"add-ons" (a short hike in the rainforest, a day's whitewater rafting). Properly
practiced, ecotourism is multifaceted: it's low-impact, small-scale nature
tourism that educates the traveler, provides funds for conservation, helps
empower local communities, and fosters respect for different cultures and human
Martha Honey, author of Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who
Many private reserves in Costa Rica are used for ecotourism and provide valuable
buffer zones near national parks, increasing animal habitat. Lodge owners also
often report poaching, logging, and hunting to the authorities. On the negative
side, luxury beach hotels in Guanacaste Province lure tourists with phony
ecotourism, promising the chance to see turtles laying their eggs, when in
reality tourist development is endangering these ancient animals. These hotels
also exploit the environment by offering golf courses and huge swimming pools
where water is very scarce. A rule of thumb: stay away from the large beach
hotels that tout ecotourism. There are plenty of small, responsible lodgings that
cost a lot less, are warm and comfortable, and are run by people who love and
want to protect nature.
Beatrice Blake, coauthor of The New Key to Costa Rica
People who earn their living from ecotourism are more likely to defend their
natural resources against destructive activities, such as logging
or mining. In Bolivia, the Quechua-Tacana villagers of San José Uchupiamonas
developed the Chalalan Ecolodge to protect their land from oil and mining
interests and to create jobs that would help keep the rainforest standing.
Approximately 40 community members manage, staff, and own the business. Since the
project began, poaching in the area is down, and the community's living
conditions have markedly improved.
Russell A. Mittermeier, president, Conservation International
With the most remote corners of our delicate planet easily accessible by modern
transport, how can we both protect and enjoy our world? In Maui, travelers on
Sierra Club Service Outings have helped collect data on humpback whale behavior.
This research contributed to a change in Hawaiian law that restricts winter
parasailing in the Lahaina Roads area, ensuring humpback calves uninterrupted
time to breach, swim close to the surface, and gain strength for their annual
migration to Alaska.
Lynne Simpson, Sierra Club Outings leader and Partners in Responsible Tourism
The stress of ecotourism goes beyond the natural world to disrupt traditional
ways of life. Indigenous people's use of the forest for firewood, meat, and
agriculture sometimes comes in conflict with tourists' wishes to keep the land
pristine. To protect the tourism industry, regulations preserve these forest
resources; meanwhile, locals, unprepared for work in tourism, are left with no
alternatives but impoverishment and resentment.
Randy Hayes, president, Rainforest Action Network
It is impossible to visit an environment and not have some deleterious effect.
But the eco-traveler fights to keep the wild places wild, as he has been
personally touched by their magic and beauty. This worked dramatically with the
Tatshenshini River in Canada and Alaska, which runs through one of the wildest
and most inaccessible corridors in North America. When a giant open-pit copper
mine was proposed along the river, it was rafters who built a grassroots movement
to stop the atrocity. In 1993, the plug was pulled, and the region was declared
an international park, due in no small part to the eco-travelers who chose to
Richard Bangs, cofounder, Mountain Travel/Sobek, and editor-at-large,
Expedia.com, an online travel magazine