Apologies in advance for the lack of interesting eco-tourism images. I have never been abroad before so my photographs were all taken in the United Kingdom. Information is sourced from the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and an organisation called Sustainable Travel.
I first learnt about eco-tourism when I was fifteen as a GCSE student. I had chosen Geography as an optional subject, of which, tourism was in the syllabus. Within this, we did case studies including one of an eco-tourism resort in Trinidad (the Caribbean), assessing its physical and human effects. Around eight years later, this topic remains stuck in my mind, inspiring me to write this post. And what a pertinent topic it is. Since 2014, climate change has accelerated exponentially. The United Kingdom has made new climate pledges, left the European Union and witnessed America leave and re-join the Paris Agreement. Moreover, COVID-19 proved to a global audience the impact of industrial pause on climate statistics, placing scrutiny on the tourism industry.
Hence, a modern and inclusive phenomenon, eco-tourism was defined by TIES (2015) as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education’. Historically too, Caballos-Lascurain (1983), a Mexican environmentalist and architect, defined eco-tourism in terms of ‘travelling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural aspects found in these areas… the person who practices ecotourism has the opportunity of immersing [themself] in nature in a way that most people cannot enjoy in their routine, urban existences’. However, he elaborated this, ten years on, to capture the importance of supporting local communities, demonstrating parallels to TIES’ definition twenty years on.
Caballos-Lascurin’s extended definition, taking cultural features, responsibility and impact into consideration, proved highly influential as the World Conservation Union adopted it in 1996. Moreover, TIES
began celebrating conscientious tourism destinations, encouraging eco-friendly travel. This followed a sharp rise in popularity for eco-tourism which mirrored neoliberalism and late-stage globalisation in an international society where many saw themselves as citizens of the world (Calhoun, 2008).
Thought of by many as an antidote to the package holiday pandemic, eco-tourism was seen to provide a platform for conservationists to protect habitats while economically supporting local communities. Here then, resorts in places such as Trinidad hosted sandy, coral-clad beaches, sprawling jungles and vast mountain ranges, offering the global citizen opportunity to explore the world. Hence, eco-tourism involves large-scale conservation schemes, community empowerment and a Western appreciation for nature and local cultures.
However, so-called economic solutions, whether eco-tourism or volunteer outreach, nonetheless have implications for the natural environment. With many countries only accessible by aeroplane, related carbon costs are vast and a primary contributor to climate change. That means, while eco-tourism minimises the effects of other forms of tourism (environmental destruction, material consumerism and cultural imposition), they do not disappear entirely. After all, it is easy for businesses to falsely describe themselves as sustainable and eco-friendly on the grounds of being rustic, deceiving tourists.
In addition, a question is raised as to whether travel can ever be sustainable. Where planes are involved, probably not. After all, the majority of transportation systems rely, to some extent, on power generation of non-renewable sources. Oil, for instance, is predicted to run out sometime in the mid twenty-first century. So, should we just try to balance economic growth and sustainability to avoid generating severe consequences on either side of the quadrium? Is it ethical to travel abroad at all? These are unanswerable, creating fear regarding the mortality of our world.