The following is a guest post by Matthew Kepnes.
As the number of people traveling increases each year, the environmental effects of tourism get worse. Travelers tend to produce copious amounts of waste few recycle on the road, hotels are models of inefficiency, and airplanes spew carbon dioxide. All in all, travel can be pretty environmentally unfriendly.
With climate change, deforestation and species extinction the defining issues of the day, its more important than ever that our travels become greener. Over the past decade, a movement has grown within in the travel industry called ecotourism to help make that possible.
Ecotourism deals with sustainable travel, both for the environment and for local populations. It promotes environmental and social awareness and, typically, eco-tours go to countries where the flora and fauna are abundant. Think Costa Rica, Tanzania, the Amazon and New Zealand.
The official definition, from the International Ecotourism Society, is that ecotourism is about connecting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in responsible tourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
The goal of ecotourism is to build a better world.
While most eco-tours are simply greener versions of normal tours, others offer specific angles:
Ecotourism promotes environmental awareness among its participants and reduces the environmental impact of travel. Companies use local products, local guides, and visit organizations that use sustainable and low-impact methods.
Moreover, it promotes local conservation and trains locals on how protecting the environment is good for the planet and also for their wallet. Many companies run conservation programs and train locals on how to look after the environment. After all, no flora and fauna, no travel business.
Beyond the environmental impact is the social impact. By creating self-sustaining industries and training locals, eco-tours help ensure that impoverished communities develop financial independence, giving them less incentive to cut down the environment that feeds them.
The environment is the defining issue of our century. Climate change affects us all, and if we dont begin reducing our footprint, these wonderful places in the world might soon vanish. Travel is a great experience and helps promote cultural understanding, but normal travel has a heavy environmental impact.
For those with a green spirit, this can present a problem. Yet we should not have to decide between travel and the environment, and with eco-tours, we can sleep well knowing we can have our cake and eat it too.
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