Ecotourism: What Is It and How Can It Make a Difference?
Ecotourism: What Is It and How Can It Make a Difference?
It seems as though we are stumbling from one major world issue to another these days, from the climate crisis and its various issues like plastic pollution, deforestation and increased natural disasters to global conflicts and economic crises.
As such, many of us are changing, or have already changed, our behaviour in the hopes of lessening our environmental impact and helping the planet recover.
From arranging essential beach cleaning endeavours to conscious consumerism, it’s important to believe we are making a difference through positive change. And thanks to ecotourism we can now continue to appease our wanderlust while also making a positive difference during our travels.
What is ecotourism?
In simple terms, ecotourism is a form of responsible tourism focused on the natural world and the sustainable practices we can implement to preserve its integrity while also educating on and raising awareness of the issues ecosystems and communities face.
Unlike mass tourism that primarily benefits large companies, ecotourism directly supports the preservation of habitats and wildlife. At its best, ecotourism funds the protection of natural areas and habitats sustainably. It also fosters connections with nature, raising awareness of environmental issues and inspiring more eco-friendly choices.
When done responsibly, ecotourism benefits both the planet and our own wellbeing. However, without proper regulation and management training, ecotourism can negatively impact the environment and local communities. There are also ongoing questions about its effects, with some arguing ecotourism leads to overtourism and disruption of wildlife.
What does ecotourism look like?
We have covered what ecotourism is at its core but what does this look like in the real world? There are a variety of ways we can enjoy conscious tourism and here are some examples of ecotourism activities:
Wildlife viewing – Observing animals in their natural habitat. This includes bird watching, whale watching and safaris. Wildlife viewing in this way helps to educate participants about the impact of climate change on the ecosystems and habits of wildlife while helping to fund essential conservation measures of natural areas.
[Image source: Craig Stevenson on Unsplash]
Hiking or trekking – Exploring natural areas on foot. This is a low-impact form of travel, ideally done without the use of a car or emissions. This includes activities ranging from short nature trails to extensive multi-day treks. By using designated trails and leaving no trace, hiking can be a great way to explore with minimal impact.
Volunteering – Assisting with conservation efforts like habitat restoration, wildlife monitoring and clean-ups is a great way to see other parts of the world and make a positive impact amongst communities and environments. Examples include projects like sea turtle conservation, rainforest restoration and wildlife sanctuary support.
[Image source: Arturo Rivera on Unsplash]
Research and educational visits – Learning opportunities focused on the natural environment, culture and history of a region. This includes guided nature tours, workshops, field courses and citizen science programs.
How does ecotourism benefit the planet?
When run by responsible organisations, ecotourism funding goes directly towards protecting natural areas, habitats and wildlife in a sustainable way. Ecotourism also educates travellers about environmental issues and fosters a deeper connection with nature, which helps raise awareness and inspires more eco-friendly choices.
Ecotourists gain a greater understanding of environmental challenges and sustainable practices through their experiences. With increased environmental awareness, people are more likely to make changes and engage in activities that benefit the planet in their daily lives.
There are economic benefits too
Unlike mass tourism which primarily benefits large companies, ecotourism supports local communities and conservation efforts. By using local guides, purchasing locally made goods and protecting natural resources, ecotourism helps generate income and economic opportunity for communities.
Ecotourism also creates jobs for locals in areas like national park management, environmental education and sustainable hospitality. The ecotourism market is expected to reach $299.03 billion in 2026, helping to provide essential funding for protected ecosystems around the world, assuming that this is done responsibly.
How ecotourism improves your wellbeing
Spending time in nature offers significant benefits to wellbeing, helping us to better manage stress, anxiety and depression while improving health and happiness. Ecotourism allows for this in a way that also benefits the planet. According to studies, spending time in green spaces decreases stress hormone levels and leads to a boosted immune system and increased feelings of calmness.
Additionally, participants in ecotourism gain a greater sense of purpose and connection by contributing to conservation through their experience, leading to an increased sense of life satisfaction and joy.
The thrill and challenge of some ecotourism activities also releases endorphins that improve mood and act as a natural antidepressant. While any travel can produce general benefits like relaxation or cultural enrichment, ecotourism amplifies these effects through specific connections made with nature.
Where does ecotourism take place?
There are two main types of ecotourism: domestic and international. Domestic ecotourism refers to activities within your own country, while international ecotourism involves travel to foreign destinations, typically far away or remote locations.
Domestic ecotourism may have a smaller carbon footprint without long flights and often provides opportunity to explore closer natural areas while making an impact in your own community. However, international ecotourism is critical for supporting conservation in developing nations.
Ecotourism: beware of greenwashing
It’s also important to be aware of ‘greenwashing’ and how some companies may be using the term ecotourism loosely without distributing the money effectively or misleadingly providing accommodation that doesn’t operate sustainably.
Without proper regulation, ecotourism can negatively impact the environment and disrupt local communities. It may lead to issues like pollution, habitat destruction, overtourism, protest over land rights or unequal distribution of benefits.
How to choose the right ecotourism company?
Nobody wants to feel as though they have been taken advantage of, especially when you have good intentions about making a positive difference in the world. When choosing an ecotourism company, look for certification from reputable organisations like Byway Travel, Gondwana Ecotours, Intrepid Travel and the Experience Travel Group.
To do your own research into an ecotourism company look for the following signals:
Do they employ locals?
How much of their income is donated to conservation efforts?
Do they follow low-impact practices?
Have they got any educational programmes?
Are they promoting green partnerships?
Additionally, the destination and activities provided by these companies should be structured to benefit both the environment and community. They are typically more expensive than other forms of travel but booking with certified companies ensures your tourism dollars do good.
Annie Button is a freelance writer who has written for a variety of prestigious online and print publications.
She specialises in lifestyle, business, branding, digital marketing and HR.