Eco-tourism goes mainstream?

Eco-tourism is a trend on the move, according to a recent New York Times story by Bonnie Tsui.

In 2004, worldwide eco-tourism and nature tourism were growing three times faster than tourism as a whole, the story says. And a recent study showed more than 55 million Americans are interested in sustainable travel.

So what does this mean for you, the independent eco-traveller?

It will likely mean more choices and more places opening up to eco-tourism. But it will also mean more marketing to the masses. Just as we all had to become more and more skeptical of products in the supermarket labeled “Natural” or “Organic” as those terms were co-opted for their mainstream marketing potential, you will need to be a discerning consumer when it comes to eco-travel choices.

We’ve already seen this with hotels marketing themselves as “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” when they switch from little plastic bottles of shampoo to big plastic containers, or let you stay without washing all of your towels and sheets every single day. That’s nice and all, but hardly what us eco-travellers would consider a truly green accommodation.

The NYT story, however, doesn’t get into all that, but does offer a sound overview of what eco-travel is really all about — exploring places off the mass-tourist path, and doing it in ways that benefit the local cultures and protect the natural environment. Tourism can be a powerful conservation tool, the story says.

Here are a few of the resources cited in Tsui’s story… some are already familiar to readers of this Eco-TravelLogue, but a couple are new to me…

indon_mtunderwater-ecoreef1jpg.jpgOne of the new ones is Seacology, a nonprofit based in California. The group formerly ran fund-raising tours only for its members, who helped support conservation efforts on islands around the world. This year, it started to open those trips to the public. Destinations for 2007 are Tanzania and Fiji.

I’ve written a few times already about Earthwatch, which offers a chance to participate in scientific research expeditions. Sierra Club Outings runs hundreds of trips each year, mainly the more traditional hiking and nature tours. They also organize service trips building trails and a selection of “activist” tours.

Also cited in the NYT story:

Mountain Travel Sobek is working with The Nature Conservancy to develop rafting trips in China that benefit conservation efforts and local guides.

Blue Ventures takes volunteers for three to six week trips to Madagascar, where you can work with scientists on marine-conservation projects.