Eco-tourism - traveling for yourself and future generations
by Julaine Chattaway and Carolyn Chase
With a little care, you can have your "getting away from it all"
vacation contribute to the preservation of the very places you're visiting.
special category of travel - tourism- has evolved into
a global economic phenomena.
Tourism, or more exactly, eco-tourism, can become a source of sustainable
income in support of nature and culture. But tourism in general can also
lead to environmental destruction (see article on eco-air travel costs).
Many an ecosystem is being destroyed in order to build tourist facilities,
hotels and golf courses. Too many tourists have "loved" sites
to death and ended up killing coral reefs and caves due to inappropriate
management. Tourist facilities can overburden the local infrastructure,
exploit local people and resources, and increase pollution. So eco-tourism
is not just about going to see nature; it's also about how an area's nature
and quality-of-life is sustained and connected with both tourism and the
local culture and economy.
The Eco-tourism Society, a nonprofit group based in
Vermont, defines eco-tourism as "responsible travel which conserves
environments and sustains the well-being of local people." This includes
everything from energy-efficient travel to ensuring that money spent by
tourists enriches the area in which it was spent instead of flowing to a
corporate office in a distant city. Eco-tourism can aid environmental conservation
of precious places in many ways, including generating park fees and creating
employment for local guides and hoteliers. Such financial benefits carry
with them a critical message: Nature is valuable.
In days past, wild nature was all around us: engulfing
and predominating, something to take dominion over and control. Today, most
of us are city dwellers. According to the recent United Nations estimates,
45 percent of the world's population lives in a city; this figure is expected
to surpass 50 percent by the year 2005.
This shift has led to difficulty in "getting away
from it all," because "it" is so prevalent. And we take "it"
with us! Even those who own property in "the country" are noticing
just how many human neighbors they now have. In addition, it has become
more difficult to find natural surroundings, unlike zoos, aquariums and
such. The story is not much different in many of the developing nations.
But, if you hurry, there are still a few places left, and possibly with
your carefully spent dollars you can help secure a future for these little
patches of nature.
If you are looking for a nature experience, consider
joining trips with conservation organizations. Trips organized by groups
such as The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and the San Diego Zoo,
are designed with conservation in mind. The Sierra Club organizes hundreds
of outings and expeditions both locally and internationally.
The most valuable contribution that a motivated eco-tourist
can do is to volunteer their services on a conservation project. EARTHWATCH
organizes such trips. Closer to home, One World Work Force stages sea turtle
conservation and research trips to sites in Baja California (see article
on page 18). Pacific Beach resident Nanci Hartland of Lifetracks (274-0776)
leads eco-tours and cultural tours to Tanzania in east Africa. Participants
plants trees, repair hospitals and build clean water systems.
Taking it easy
But what if you're not interested in doing the nature
thing? What if you'd like to be an eco-tourist without actually experiencing
too much of the hard-core nature experience? If you just want to relax in
the comfort of your hotel room, or prowl city streets and museums, you to
can still improve or mitigate the environmental impact of your travel.
There are now national and international "green
hotel" organizations. Participating hotels improve their environmental
profile by supporting recycling, water and energy efficiency and other appropriate
urban actions including booking guests for local conservation trips.
When you are buying souvenirs, look for those from local
artists, or those that support environmental education programs or local
Some cruise lines have environmental policies for ship
and company operations. An aware traveler can channel their tourist dollars
in support of the things that matter - wherever they go.
Do your best to support eco-friendly tourism and that
includes both the vacation you choose and what you do when you get there.
When you are looking for a vacation, choose one that will give save some
nature for future generations. Look for tours and businesses that are environmentally
aware and give back to the community. You'll end up feeling good and doing
good. Being an eco-tourist is by far the best deal now - and for your grandkids