What is Ecotourism?
Ecotourism encompasses nature-loving travel, entertainment, relaxation and rejuvenation and provides you with ways to experience nature in its most pure form. As a small-scale alternative to general tourism, it often involves visiting unspoiled, pristine and immaculate areas where birds, animals, plants and cultural heritage are the major attractions. Since the 1980s, many environmentalists have considered ecotourism an important part of maintaining undisturbed natural areas of enjoyment by future generations. Ecotourism stresses socially responsible travel, environmental sustainability and personal growth. Ecotourism educates about the importance of preserving nature and dedicating funds to ecological conservation efforts, and benefits the economic development of local communities and nurtures various cultures. If you are planning an eco-tour, you not only can expect to visit eye-opening landscapes, but also gain knowledge about the importance of protecting biologically diverse areas.
The main objectives of eco-tourism include:
• Teaching about wildlife conservation
• Improving local economies
• Creating social, cultural and environmental awareness
• Offering educational opportunities
Ecotourism provides an excellent opportunity to contribute to conservation of parks, wildlife sanctuaries and protected habitats. While some countries have organizations like the U.S. International Development Agency (USAID) to provide economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world, many developing countries do not have the infrastructure or funding to manage and protect their natural areas. Ecotourism serves as a valuable means for those countries to raise funds to protect natural areas and conserve species for future generations. By providing visitors with a chance to travel to natural areas with the integrity of the ecosystem intact, ecotourism not only brings awareness to the environment but also provides economic benefits for local communities that can in turn be invested in wildlife conservation. Ecotourism is an exquisite way to achieve goals of economic development and nature conservation.
Boosting Conservation Efforts
The essence of conservation is to save things from loss or waste, such as animal and plant species and natural resources. Conservation work is vital to both preserving our global heritage and also ensuring a better world for tomorrow. Below are some considerations and actions for boosting conservation efforts, with examples cited of places enacting measures to maximize conservation outcomes.
• Revenues for Protected Areas
Parks can garner revenue by charging entrance fees and other nominal fees to be used toward financing the management and protection of ecologically sensitive areas. For instance, Rwanda’s Parc des Volcans charges tourists $170 to spend one hour with lowland gorillas. This fee generates around $1 million dollars per year for the Rwandan government. The government then uses the money to manage protected areas across Rwanda.
• Economic Benefits to Local Communities
Local communities recognize the benefits of ecotourism, recognizing that protecting natural resources and abiding by wildlife conservation measures can yield significant monetary benefits. A study conducted in Kenya’s Amboseli Park shows that tourism revenues value a lion at around $27,000 and an elephant herd at around $610,000 each year.
• Encouraging Sustainable Development Projects
Madagascar drives local involvement and investment in sustainable development projects by sharing 50 percent of park entrance fees with the local communities. Such practices help the local community understand the full extent of benefits brought on by ecotourism.
• Longstanding Income
Ecotourism offers a more effective way to create sustainable development strategies than extractive land uses, such as agriculture, mining, grazing and logging. An economic assessment of land use in rainforest in countries like Brazil and Bahia performed by Conservation International shows that logging the forest provides high return in the initial stage, but in the long term, it offers only a very little income. Forest conservation into pastureland is also less profitable and it requires heavy investment in the initial stage. Eco-tourism a viable solution to meet long-term income needs.
• Educating the Locals about the Environment
Ecotourism programs offer an incredible means of educating locals about their environment. For example, school children in the city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras are taken regularly to the La Tigra Cloud Forest Center, which is partially funded by ecotourism, to learn about the rain forest.
Some ecotourism projects are successful in conserving the ecology and developing the economy, but many others are not successful. It is important to note that ecotourism does not work in all places and does not solve all conservation and economic development problems, but when it is successful, it can have far-reaching positive effects on the communities in which it operates. Ecotourism requires special attention and, in order to get the best results, should comprise a structure of complementary activities. Community involvement is an important aspect in conservation and development, and it is critical to have continuous adaptive management to get the best possible results from ecotourism efforts.
Travel Agencies Offering Ecotourism Packages
As conservation efforts find their place at the forefront of worldwide causes and concerns, more and more organizations are committing time, energy and resources to protecting the environment while promoting tourism. Following is a list of travel agencies helping to facilitate conservation work through ecotourism programs:
• National Geographic Expeditions
National Geographic Expeditions offer high-end eco-tours to many places on all seven continents from which proceeds are directed to National Geographic research programs. The tour programs encourage travelers to support local communities, with tour operators taking guests to schools and workshops where they can buy goods made by local artisans. National Geographic attempts to support initiatives in fragile environments. Tour programs include trips to a mountain gorilla habitat, an endangered species, in the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda. Rwandan Community Trust is the owner of this lodge and the profits from the lodge are used to finance the conservation and socioeconomic initiatives in the locality.
Visit www.nationalgeographicexpediitons.com for more information.
• Pure Mountains
Pure Mountains offers cycling enthusiasts the opportunity to mountain bike through one of the most stunning regions in Spain. Guests can stay in Pure Mountains owners’ solar-powered farmhouse, which is located in the Sierra Nevada Natural Park in Alpujarra, Andalucía, in which they offer meals for guests that are made using the ingredients available in that locality. The facility collects and decomposes kitchen wastes and avoids disposable things like paper plates and napkins as much as possible. They offer mountain biking holidays throughout the year, though for the most memorable cycling holiday, visitors are encouraged to visit July–August, which features lengthy daytime and warm nights.
Visit www.puremountains.com to get further details.
• Nature Travels
Nature Travels is the expert in arranging outdoor adventure tours to Sweden, offering summer tour packages that include a range of activities like horse riding, timber rafting, canoeing and kayaking. They also offer winter packages, which include dogsledding and cross-country skiing. Nature Travels donates two percent of its profits to conservation efforts in the country and a donation of €4.15 per person in the price of each tour package to Climate Care, a UK-based carbon offset company, in order to balance the impact of travel, as well as uses local small-scale businesses to carry out its operations.
For more information, visit www.naturetravels.co.uk.
• Small World Journeys
Small World Journeys offers group tour packages, of up to 10 individuals, to some of the most immaculate destinations in Australia. The compact size of the group ensures a great experience for each traveler and also reduces the environmental impact. Small World Journeys takes steps to reduce its environmental footprint by planting one tree in the rainforest in Australia for every person taking part in a tour to balance the emissions from travel and office activities. They also donate two percent of their net profits to various conservation organizations. A guided walk in the rainforest, a tour to Cairns to enjoy white water rafting, and diving in the Great Barrier Reef are some of the best tour packages offered by them.
Visit www.smallworldjourney.au to find out more.
Eco Club was established in 1999 with an aim to promote the value of ecotourism. The organization offers the best possible support and tour packages for students, consultants, academics and ecotourism lovers. With vast experience in ecotourism, EcoClub offers effectual solutions to ecotourism providers in the areas of web hosting, web designing and quality promotion.
Visit http://ecoclub.com for additional details.
• Wild Jordan
The aim of Wild Jordan is to help nature and help people, working to develop nature-based businesses in and around the protected areas of RSCN in order to provide economic benefits to the local communities. Wild Jordan provides support for natural conservation throughout the nation. Protected areas are very expensive to run, so RSCN charges entrance fees at all its locations and uses the revenue from entrance fees and tourism to support local community and conservation programs. Whether you visit the site or purchase a tour packages, you get a chance to contribute to the protection of Jordan’s natural heritage.
Visit http://www.rscn.org.jo/orgsite/Group1/AboutWildJordan/tabid/162/Default.aspx for more information.
If you are interested in learning more about ecotourism opportunities and locating agents, the following is a list of links to ecotourism online directories and blogs.
• http://www.ecotourdirectory.com/ is an online directory for ecotourism
In the inspirational words of John Muir, author, naturalist and one of the pioneer advocates of wilderness preservation in the U.S., “In every walk with nature, One receives far more than he seeds”.
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