Ecotourism is Growing Up

I bet if you were asked how long the term ‘ecotourism’ has been around, you’d never guess 25 years. Well, this month, the ever-changing travel concept turns a quarter of a century and like a good wine it only gets better with age.

Since 1983, when Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, a Mexican architect, environmentalist and ecotourism consultant, first coined the phrase ‘ecotourism’, almost every country in the world has made efforts to cater towards the growing number of travellers looking for something more than kitsch souvenirs and a tan.

But even after all these years a clear definition of ecotourism is hard to come by. The idea is constantly evolving and while generally it means environmentally-friendly tourism, it’s not just about nature and conservation.

The International Ecotourism Society says, “Ecotourism is about connecting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in responsible tourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:

  • minimize impact
  • build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
  • provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
  • provide direct financial benefits for conservation
  • provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
  • raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate

Another leader in ecotourism, the World Conservation Union, defines it as, “Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

They suggest much the same as the International Ecotourism Society; their principles being:

  • Conscientious, low-impact visitor behavior
  • Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity
  • Support for local conservation efforts
  • Sustainable benefits to local communities
  • Local participation in decision-making
  • Educational components for both the traveler and local communities

If travellers adopt any of these tactics they’re well on their way to becoming eco travellers, so spread the word.

You can hear more from the founder of ecotourism at where Hector talks about the state of ecotourism today and offers solutions for the future. For his involvement in the planning, building and development of a number of ecotourism projects worldwide, Hector has recently been awarded the Colibri Ecotourism Lifetime Achievement Award. Read more about him here.