Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism. It responsible parent definition responsible travel to natural areas conserving the environment and improving the well-being of the local people. Several university programs use this description as the working definition of ecotourism.
Generally, ecotourism deals with interaction with biotic components of the natural environments. Ecotourism focuses on socially responsible travel, personal growth, and environmental sustainability. Responsible ecotourism programs include those that minimize the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. The term ‘ecotourism’, like ‘sustainable tourism’, is considered by many to be an oxymoron.
Like most forms of tourism, ecotourism generally depends on air transportation, which contributes to global climate change. Additionally, “the overall effect of sustainable tourism is negative where like ecotourism philanthropic aspirations mask hard-nosed immediate self-interest. Seal watching near Malusi Islands in Estonia. Ecotourism is tourism which is conducted responsibly to conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of local people. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local people, and involves interpretation and education”. For many countries, ecotourism is not simply a marginal activity to finance protection of the environment, but a major industry of the national economy. Self-proclaimed practitioners and hosts of ecotourism experiences assume it is achieved by simply creating destinations in natural areas.
According to critics of this commonplace and assumptive practice, true ecotourism must, above all, sensitize people to the beauty and the fragility of nature. Although academics disagree about who can be classified as an ecotourist and there is little statistical data, some estimate that more than five million ecotourists—the majority of the ecotourist population—come from the United States, with many others from Western Europe, Canada and Australia. Currently, there are various moves to create national and international ecotourism accreditation programs, although the process is also controversial. National ecotourism certification programs have been put in place in countries such as Costa Rica, Australia, Kenya, Estonia, and Sweden. Ecotourism is a late 20th-century neologism compounded from eco- and tourism. One source claims the terms were used earlier.
Hetzer, an academic and adventurer from Forum International in Berkeley, CA, supposedly coined ecotourism in 1965 and ran the first ecotours in the Yucatán during the early 1970s. Because the regulation of ecotourism may be poorly implemented, ecologically destructive greenwashed operations like underwater hotels, helicopter tours, and wildlife theme parks can be categorized as ecotourism along with canoeing, camping, photography, and wildlife observation. The failure to acknowledge responsible, low-impact ecotourism puts legitimate ecotourism companies at a competitive disadvantage. Many environmentalists have argued for a global standard of accreditation, differentiating ecotourism companies based on their level of environmental commitment, creating a standard to follow. A national or international regulatory board would enforce accreditation procedures, with representation from various groups including governments, hotels, tour operators, travel agents, guides, airlines, local authorities, conservation organizations, and non-governmental organizations. Crinion suggests a Green Stars System, based on criteria including a management plan, benefit for the local community, small group interaction, education value and staff training.
Ecotourists who consider their choices would be confident of a genuine ecotourism experience when they see the higher star rating. Environmental impact assessments could also be used as a form of accreditation. Feasibility is evaluated from a scientific basis, and recommendations could be made to optimally plan infrastructure, set tourist capacity, and manage the ecology. This form of accreditation is more sensitive to site specific conditions. Some countries have their own certification programs for ecotourism. The CST program focuses on a company’s interaction with natural and cultural resources, the improvement of quality of life within local communities, and the economic contribution to other programs of national development.
An environmental protection strategy must address the issue of ecotourists removed from the cause-and-effect of their actions on the environment. More initiatives should be carried out to improve their awareness, sensitize them to environmental issues, and care about the places they visit. Tour guides are an obvious and direct medium to communicate awareness. With the confidence of ecotourists and intimate knowledge of the environment, tour guides can actively discuss conservation issues. Informing ecotourists about how their actions on the trip can negatively impact their environment and the local people. The underdevelopment theory of tourism describes a new form of imperialism by multinational corporations that control ecotourism resources.