While the growing popularity of ecotourism represents a change in tourist’s perceptions, with change often comes resistance. So, although some people regard booking an eco-friendly break as a perfectly feasible way of redressing the environmental balance, others view the idea with nothing more than scepticism and disdain.
People are right to be sceptical but it’s also important to have all the facts before going headlong into an argument. Yes, ecotourism allows the unscrupulous to prey on innocent tourists that think they’re doing something good when all they’re doing is lining someone else’s pockets so they can retire early and go tanning it up in Florida, but doesn’t this happen within all lucrative business circles?
No tourist is as naïve as they make out; unprepared, maybe. If for some reason travellers find themselves being taken in by a resort/lodge/project that professes to be eco-friendly when in fact it’s not even close, then it’s more than likely because the person booking didn’t research as much as they could have. Don’t always rely on people to tell the truth.
Initially, when carbon offsetting first came on the scene it was awarded great praise and people concerned about the environment jumped at the idea. Paying a small amount towards regeneration and renewable sources seemed not too much to ask. In a way it put people’s mind at rest that they could continue their lifestyle while being able to compensate for a growing carbon footprint.
Now it’s a different story. Read our Update on Carbon Offsetting
Voluntourism has become more and more popular over recent years and as its popularity has grown so too have the criticisms, for a few reasons.
Some people who sign up for a volunteering holiday genuinely believe that their input into the project will do good. Whether it’s being involved in building a school in Africa or teaching English as a foreign language, they give their time for free to make other’s lives better. They also leave with rewarding memories.
Other people get wildly annoyed at the thought of volunteering, dismissing it as nothing more than an opportunity for self-gratification while at the same time reinforcing an already ingrained pecking order in society of those less fortunate.
There’s now a new emerging train of thought regarding volunteering holidays. It is this: The majority of volunteer opportunities are not volunteering in the real sense, i.e. giving your time for free; no, these days most people pay for the pleasure of volunteering. This is sometimes an amount in the thousands of dollars/pounds for a period as short as two weeks (but it can be a lot longer). The same amount of money would probably be enough to train a number of locals in the village as builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers so that they can keep building long after the volunteers have left. As the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime.” So, maybe more of the travellers costs should be ploughed into the community rather than the tour companies bank account.
What do you think?
Greenwashing happens frequently, on a grand scale. Today’s travel industry is rife with businesses who claim to have given their company an eco-friendly facelift while doing next to nothing about their environmental impact. And because ecotourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry everyone wants a piece of the pie.
Ecotourism Breeds Mass Tourism
One of the biggest problems facing the ecotourism trade is, quite ironically, its arch enemy, mass tourism.
In trying to attain all the principles of ecotourism throughout our travels, such as, sustainability, environmental and cultural awareness, having a minimum of impact, to name a few, eco travellers unwittingly open up hidden gems to other travellers who may not necessarily care too much about the impact of their travels, they want a holiday and the place you mentioned sounds just great. They tell all their mates and soon the route to your quaint little hideaway is awash with hundreds of faces wanting to see what’s so special. Soon there are McDonalds on every street corner and the place you first discovered is drowning in a mass of tourists.
There’s certainly no easy answer to it but if eco travellers are aware of what can happen it may change events in the future.
Take for example the Inca Trail or Easter Island. Both were once devoid of all tourists, their natural beauty intact for years. Then a few budding adventurers relayed how amazing these sites were to others and a trickle of those who could afford to take those long journeys ventured in their footsteps, and over the years the numbers grew, the airlines multiplied and reduced their costs, accommodations sprung up in the most unlikely places and tour companies started offering regular trips.
Now Easter Island is on the verge of collapse and treks along the Inca Trail have been cut back in an attempt to preserve what is left. Let’s hope it’s not to late for these magnificent ancient sites.