Making sense of Sustainable Tourism & Ecotourism [3]

Logo_Sustainable-Tourism_4As I continue to blog and share my own thoughts and compelling findings of others that I find relevant, it’s always a pleasant surprise to stubmle upon new ideas and new perspectives of looking at the same challenges in a different light. Like this piece on Ecotourism and what exactly constitutes it, from Cool Heads for a Hot Planet blog

As you can likely imagine, several tourism related activities have a largely negative impact on the environment, and with growing interest in travel, it is crucial that they be mitigated. Tourism is one of the main sectors of the world economy bringing in 11% of gross domestic product and growing at 4% annually. Because tourism is a huge contributor to the global economy, ecotourism acts as a market-linked long-term solution. Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (The International Ecotourism Society, 1990). In 2004 ecotourism grew globally 3 times faster than the tourism industry.


Palawan Island and environs. Photo: Catha, Let’s Visit Asia

Ecotourism is a draw because it presents people with a more stimulating experience. Nowadays, many are looking for a vacation that is not just relaxing but rewarding as well. Visitors can explore unique natural areas, allowing them to gain respect for the environment and the beauty of places threatened by climate change. Ecotourism tends to educate travellers about their surroundings, which raises awareness and funds that often contribute to the preservation or conservation of areas at risk. As you can see, ecotourism uses a variety of means to mitigate the effects of climate change. The general principles are as follows:

  • 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.

Unfortunately, ecotourism is a label that can be easily abused. Many tourism companies simply use the term as a market strategy, but don’t put the guidelines into practice.

“There’s an extraordinary amount of evidence to show that eco-tourism, like all forms of tourism, is not necessarily sustainable, and the name alone doesn’t make it sustainable. It can be as abusive as any other form of tourism, maybe sometimes more abusive because it wants to go to areas where indigenous people live.” – Tricia Barnett, Chief Executive of Tourism Concern

While some labels may be misleading, there are awards and affiliations with reputable organizations that people can look for though standards vary because there are about 80 certification bodies worldwide. Currently the UNEP (United Nationals Environment Programme) is calling for the development of international guidelines to help codify the management of the industry.

Several tourism services simply exploit the land and people of popular destinations. Increased consumption is common on vacation, and it takes advantage of the hosts scarce resources (especially the use of water in hot climate, for beverages, pools, golf course upkeep etc.). Tourism development also contributes to deforestation and building infrastructure in wetlands and coastlines which enhances erosion. The development also acts as aesthetic pollution by planting resorts amidst a cultural background, failing to integrate the structure with the natural surroundings. Locals often have much to lose as business is taken away from them and they are provided with little economic benefit. The world’s least developed and developing countries only have tourism to offer in the global marketplace, and ecotourism allows them to optimize that opportunity. When the principles of ecotourism are implemented in developing countries it allows the locals to benefit rather than multinational corporations. Geoffrey Lipman, WTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) assistant secretary general says:

“You can go to the world’s poorest country and it has some form of tourism product that it can produce and sell. So the big challenge is to ensure that that product is retained. That they don’t just have that product for this year, they have it for next year and thereafter and thereafter. And that when the tourists come, they don’t destroy the very things that they came to see and experience.”

Cruise ships are particularly polluting and hard to regulate due to the tragedy of the commons. Standard of living is constantly increasing with the public’s expectations and a competitive market. Cruise ships have kept up with the high demand by upgrading their ships often, now most models are quite luxurious, almost like floating cities. Check out this video. Their latest ship, Oasis of the Sea, will carry 5,400 guests and have seven distinct neighbourhoods, including a central park.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates passengers typically generate 21,000 gallons of sewage, 170,000 gallons of wastewater, 6,400 gallons of oily binge water and 25 pounds of batteries, chemical and medical waste. On top of that, each passenger produces 3.5 kg of garbage daily, compared with the 0.8 kg produced by people on shore.

Cruise ships also cause extensive damage to coral reefs. There are 109 countries with coral reefs and in 90 of them reefs are being damaged by anchors, sewage, tourists breaking off chunks and commercial harvesting. Unfortunately, about 70% of cruise destinations are in biodiversity hotspots. An anchor dropped for one day can result in the destruction of an area half the size of a football field immediately, and more damage would follow because of coverage by rubble. Coral reef damage and the release of sewage and wastewater have extreme impacts on marine ecosystems, the pollution of our oceans and the release of greenhouse gases. Each passenger on a ship emits 0.43kg of carbon dioxide per mile compared with 0.257kg for a long haul flight, even allowing for the further damage of emissions being produced in the upper atmosphere. In addition, travellers are often required to fly to destination ports, adding even more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

When you consider the sheer volume of tourists, and that tourism is a rapidly growing industry, there is definitely cause for concern and need for a viable solution.

Inspiration: Eco Chic Hotels; Wave Expeditions – Costa Rica; Mozaik Branding, Greece; Cool Heads for a Hot Planet; The Green Host Effect; The Environmental Impacts of Tourism; Trail Canada; UNEP: Climate Change and Tourism – Responding to Global Challenges; Let’s Visit Asia

This entry was posted in Ecotourism, Green Travel, Responsible Tourism, Sustainable Tourism, Sustainable Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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