Understanding the Ecotourism Principles

28 SEP 2015
by: Adam | posted in: Guide, Project Expedition, Travel | comments: 0
Understanding the ecotourism principles can make you feel a bit like those guys. All alone in a cold desolate place. Okay, that's just a little hyperbolic, but there's a lot out there, and it's not always easy to decipher what the principles are actually trying to say. Last week we approached ecotourism with a question. Now we’ll take a more in depth look at the ambiguous ecotourism principles and try to make them easier to understand. We’ll also include real world applications of each principle.


Ecotourism Principle #1 - Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.

In other words: It’s broad, it’s vague, and it’s ripe to interpretation, but it’s first for a reason. This is looking at what we actually do to the environment. Are we walking over nesting grounds? Does our mere presence cause a species to change their nesting grounds? Does the tour include feeding animals? Is the guide the bait? The goal here is to be just like ghosts, and leaving everything just as we found it. That’s never going to be entirely possible, which is where the interpretation of the organization who is responsible for certifying the businesses come in.

In practice: Leave no trace, carbon offset programs, waste disposal, wise use of water when building buildings.


Ecotourism Principle #2 - Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.

In other words: Education is a big part of ecotourism, and this is the principle that establishes its importance. In the hopes of a better form of tourism, people will walk away with knowledge and with it a greater appreciation of what they experienced and saw, not just a few selfies. They’ll take this message home, whether it’s about the danger rhinos are in or what it takes to get fresh water when you live in the middle of the desert, and convey it to their friends and family.

In practice: Hiring local guides, pre-trip meetings to highlight important things to know regarding culture or wildlife playing a pre-trip video that encourages environmentally responsible behavior.


Ecotourism Principle #3 - Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.

In other words: What this usually ends up being in practice is a series of customer satisfaction policies. They should feel comfortable when they book their tours that they’re going to get what they paid for. They should also know when they are out on the tour that they’ll be in a safe environment, physically and intellectually. Likewise, the businesses should do their best to make sure their guides are well-trained in managing their clients, and making sure they can meet their needs.

In practice: Refunds, responsible and accurate marketing, classes for guides in informal education.


Ecotourism Principle #4 - Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.

In other words: This principle is key to the sustainable part of ecotourism. If we don’t manage the areas and wildlife properly, neither will be around for future generations to enjoy. Also, this is a chance to not only keep the areas sustainable, but maybe undo years of unchecked malevolent practices that damaged the environment. Dedicated conservation programs will inject money into both of these areas and aid the process. They might also mitigate the adverse effects high numbers of people could have on an area, even when they are being as careful as can be.

In practice: A portion of the tour when the operator will ask for financial assistance for the programs operating in the region, opportunities for travelers to volunteer.


Ecotourism Principle #5 - Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.

In other words: Unless you’re staying and eating at tiny homestays, you never really know who owns what. When you are traveling it probably wouldn’t be of much surprise to find out that the tour you are using or the hotel you are staying at is actually lining the pockets of someone thousands of miles away, instead of those who have been living within the natural environment every day of their lives. This principle sets the standards against exactly that. Ecotourism is about locals benefiting off of their incredible natural resources, especially because in some cases those resources can also be quite debilitating to other types of business. Think Nepal and the Himalayas, or the thick jungles of the Amazon. Amazing places, but ones where it’s hard to even move from one places to another, much less move goods or conduct other types of business. This principle hopes to rectify that.

In practice: Promoting local businesses, offering packages that link local tours with local hotels and restaurants.


Ecotourism Principle #6 - Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.

In other words: It’s easy for travelers to find themselves in a bubble. When everyone goes to the same great places, does the same great things, and gets there the same way, an entire industry will pop up to cultivate this experience purely for travelers. Sometimes in the process of that cultivation, a narrative may arise that makes the experience better, but isn’t exactly true. Either way, in the bubble everyone gets a very similar experience. This principle wants to pop that bubble, and encourage a more genuine interaction between hosts and travelers.

In practice: Tour operators arrange home stays for guests, where the travelers can spend a night staying with a local and observe their daily life and work.


Ecotourism Principle #7 - Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.

In other words: Nature is sensitive to change. Coming in and installing a new building in the middle of a living ecological area is inevitably going to lead to change. This principle seeks to establish a better way of constructing and operating buildings so the change done to the environment is minimized.

In practice: Not using heavy machinery, finding a lot that was an old pasture instead of knocking down trees to clear a lot, using solar panels.


Ecotourism Principle #8 - Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

In other words: Building off of previous principles that seek to provide financial benefit for indigenous people, this principle is about more than just money or educating travelers. Businesses need to make efforts to help the local people in other ways, while also making sure they don’t inhibit their way of living or any other aspects of their daily or religious life. Ideally, the indigenous people will walk away from their interactions with travelers and businesses with added insight and other skills they can use in other parts of their life.

In practice: Building contractors using local labor and teaching them how to build using low-impact methods.


We started with an overview of ecotourism, and followed up by examining ecotourism's principles. We will finish with a look at the tour themselves, and how you should go about booking them. Look for that post soon!


Real world applications from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fr339

Source for title photo - SergeSaint/Flickr
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