Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ecotourism Vacations - The Heart Of The Matter?

For many committed ecotourists, it is not enough to simply take part in low-impact, educational vacations to unique locations. Some are interested in going further, to get at the heart of what ecotourism really is. Total immersion in the concept is certainly one way to understand this growing industry and how it affects everything on the planet.

Ecotourism may be new to many in the general public, but the concept has been around for a number of years. In the 1980s, some enterprising travelers with an environmental consciousness began to develop projects that would take travelers to remote places on the globe or to locations where the natural or cultural resources were particularly threatened.

Sometimes these locations were in or near cities, but for the most part the destinations were natural resource treasures abroad that were threatened by development of commercial entities or mass tourism. One goal of these early ecotourists was a wider understanding of just what ecotourism involves. Some were looking for a definition of the term, so that they could explain it to others. In any case, knowing about this important segment of the travel industry is necessary, whether the individual takes part in ecotourism trips or not.

For many, the idea behind ecotourism is simple: human beings should give up mass/recreation tourism and participate in activities that help preserve natural resources and unique cultures around the world. The primary goal is to learn about these cultures and the way wildlife survives, so that trips and projects can be devised along those guidelines.

Ecotourism, as defined above, includes some of the following items:

Eco-lodges - Areas of land, with or without structures, that are purchased or leased then opened to ecotourists for lodging near natural habitats of interest. These sites provide accommodations that more closely resemble camping than a night in a lodge, however. They have become quite popular for ecotourism proponents, even to the point of being essential factors in a true ecotourism experience.

Preservation - This concept is certainly at the heart of ecotourism, whether the impetus comes from a company or individual operating an eco-lodge or from the travelers themselves. Preserving natural resources, in the form of animals, plants and open land is a key tenet of ecotourism (some would say the primary tenet of the industry). This concept is truly a two-way street. If there was no preservation, there could be no ecotourism. If there were no ecotourists, there could be no preservation.

Distant Lands - Many consider the distant locations and their unspoiled natural resources to be at the heart of ecotourism. Many of these sites have become preferred destinations for ecotourism trips, though a few years ago they were considered unreachable, even with modern transportation. Communities in the area of these sites have taken up the ecotourism banner, in many cases. Local leaders have found methods of providing economic stability to native populations through careful use of ecotourism.

With all of this in mind, ecotourism remains to be discovered by each individual really. Ecotourism, after al, is what the conscientious traveler makes of it.

By Peter S. Mason