Ecotourism is a little like that famous quote from Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see it." There is no short, universally agreed upon definition of ecotourism, although in a broad sense it means traveling to, and experiencing, destinations in a more sustainable way, from attractions in our own towns to far-flung exotic locales. Of course, one person's sustainable can be another's greenwashing, so it can be a bit tricky for consumers to navigate the increasingly growing field of "ecotourism" -- which is among the fastest growing segments of the whole travel industry.
We also recognize that the Internet has become a major way that people research and book trips. In fact, a recent poll conducted by the AAA Automobile Club of Southern California found that 80% of respondents cited the Internet as the top method they use to choose which attractions, restaurants and retailers to visit while on vacation (family and friend recommendations took the second spot, at 59%, followed by guide books and magazines).
In addition, the poll found that 73% of respondents said they seek out coupons or discounts at least part of the time when making decisions about travel.
With this in mind, we rounded up some of the best Websites in the world for helping you plan your next ecotourism vacation, as well as learning about this exciting, and booming, sector.
TIES (The International Ecotourism Society)
Perhaps the biggest name in ecotourism advocacy around the world is Washington, DC-based TIES, The International Ecotourism Society, which maintains the appropriately named domain ecotourism.org. TIES is a leading source for education, information and advocacy on sustainable travel, and the dynamic Website boasts blogs and featured trips.
Sustainable Travel International
Another nonprofit advocacy group is Sustainable Travel International, which is dedicated to providing education and outreach services that "help travelers, travel providers and destinations support environmental conservation and protect cultural heritage while promoting cross-cultural understanding and economic development."
Transitions Abroad isn't the prettiest Website, or the most user friendly, but it is a portal for ecotourism. The site is a repository of useful links on responsible operators and articles.
The venerable environmental group has done extensive work to green up travel, as well as to protect the planet's vanishing destinations.
Ecoclub is a network for practitioners and participants of ecotourism around the world to come together and share their experiences, through member profiles, blogs, articles and other means. The site hosts news and boards for jobs, grants, events and more.
Planeta, "the global journal of practical ecotourism," was founded in 1994. Although Planeta's design looks like it hasn't been updated since, it can be a useful resource for finding responsible travel options, as well as news and event info. The world directory of ecotours is particularly helpful.
Perhaps testifying to how mainstream ecotourism is becoming, major travel site Orbitz has its own hub for the sector. Get easy access to green hotels, news and much more.
You may not have thought about Israel as an ecotourism destination, but Eco & Sustainable Tourism Israel proves that there are some exciting opportunities in the Holy Land. TDG recently visited Agamon Hula, a critical bird sanctuary for some 400 species of migratory birds.
Nearly synonymous with ecotourism is Costa Rica, the peaceful Central American country that has been at the forefront of the industry for decades. Not only have Ticos protected a vast part of their country's rich natural heritage, but they have innovated in sustainable ways to share this wealth with the world, from canopy tours to river rafting and much more. Costa Rica is working to make all tourism visits to the country carbon neutral.
A leader in responsible adventure tourism, "clean and green New Zealand" is also a leader in destination Websites. Hit the beach, hike a snow-capped mountain, trek through unique primeval forests or try your hand at rappelling or kite-boarding. New Zealand has it all.
Brazil is emerging as a fast-developing economy and a world destination, especially for ecotourism. TDG recently visited the country's spectacular Pantanal region, and other key destinations include the Amazon basin, Iguazu Falls (which is taller than Niagara), and hundreds of miles of pristine beaches.
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