What is ecotourism?
© by Dominika Zareba
Ecotourism is the most environmentally friendly form of tourism and is at the core of the concept of sustainable tourism. It is organized in areas which are rich in natural as well as cultural resources, the people who are involved in it have a high level of appreciation for the environment and a strong ‘desire’ to discover and learn, while the profit that comes from goes directly to the local community and drives local economies.
Ecotourism is closely linked to many forms of travel and is mutually complementary with them (e.g. active and specialist tourism, landscape tourism, agrotourism, heritage tourism, culinary tourism, adventure tourism, pro-health and health resort tourism etc.), which another one of its strong points and generates the potential needed for the innovative development of regions which have vibrant natural and cultural heritage.
The three most important features of ecotourism which make it distinct from all other forms of tourism are:
- ecotourism is a form of active and in-depth exploration of areas which have superior natural, landscape and cultural value;
- ecotourism actively contributes to the protection of natural and cultural heritage;
- ecotourism is a part of the sustainable development of a region in that it brings real economic as well as societal benefits to local communities and improves the quality of life of their inhabitants.
Definition of the Global Ecotourism Network
Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved (visitors, staff and the visited).
Today ecotourism is one of the fastest grown segments of the tourism market worldwide (!). According to reports by the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) which draw on data gathered by the UN World Tourism Organization and researchers from North America, the global ecotourism market is growing at an annual rate of 20-34%, three times faster than the overall global tourism industry. 50-80% of money ecotourists spend stays in the region(s) they are visiting, in contrast to all-inclusive vacation packages, where 80% is split between airlines, hotel chains and other international companies. Until 2025 a real boom is expected in nature tourism and the growth of eco-tourist facilities and hotels (20% growth per year). According to TIES, the ecotourist market in the US is worth 77 mln USD, which accounts for 5% of the current US tourist market.
© Source: „Ekoturystyka”, Zaręba Dominika, Wyd. Naukowe PWN, Warszawa 2010, 3rd edition.
English translation by Piotr Szmigielski