Ecotourism is a concept which is becoming more and more important for tourists and the word is used widely in Ecuador, undoubtedly too freely. So what does ecotourism actually mean and what criteria should we be applying to measure it?
The Ecotourism Society defines it as:
"responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,"
I’d say that all tourism will affect the environment a bit and one or some local people are always going to benefit. I think the keyword is responsible; try to consider how your trip can be great for you but also spread some positive benefits and minimise the negative effects on the natural and human environments you visit.
Amongst other factors, the choice of accommodation and tour operator can make a big difference to the impact your trip has.
If a hotel claims it is eco-friendly it should be able to demonstrate this in the following ways:
• Energy conservation
• Waste disposal, including wastewater.
• Choice of construction materials
• Sourcing food locally and sustainably
• Community involvement
A tour operator should:
• Employ the services of local people
• Show awareness of the local environment and culture
• Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
• Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
How should we behave?
Obviously we the tourists have a further responsibility in our actions as well. We can:
Show local awareness by knowing some of the language, dressing and acting appropriately.
Show respect by behaving discreetly and taking photos sensitively.
Respect the land and animals where we travel and try to ensure some of the money we spend goes to help sustain the beauty we witness.
Ensure that a large amount of the money we spend supports the local economy
Pay a fair price and think about the origin of the things we buy or consume.
Engage local people and operators so that they realise that all these considerations are important for tourists.
The following groups can provide further information on ecotourism and recommended operators in Ecuador:
Rainforest Alliance www.rainforest-alliance.org
Ecotourism Society www.ecotourism.org
Associación Ecuatoriano de Ecoturismo www.ecotourism.org.ec