With more than 800 million tourist trips a year, 200 million people employed in travel and a profit of nearly 7 trillion a year, it is evident that tourism can be a springboard for economic development in developing countries and should be viewed as a stimulus to alleviate poverty in these areas.
Although tourism provides enormous potential for growth in impoverished areas, irresponsible tourism can significantly damage the natural and cultural resources that make these areas so desirable to visit in the first place. Poorly planned and managed tourism attractions are unsustainable, harm the local community and destroy irreplaceable natural environments.
Examples where environmentally degraded conditions have inhibited tourism include beaches in the UK being closed as a result of radioactivity, air pollution levels in Mexico City discouraging travel to the area and algal blooms making water impenetrable and unattractive to tourists.
Given the negative impact that travel can have on the environment and nature, it is important for tourists to seek alternative and responsible styles of travel that reduce adverse effects on the ecosystem and encourage sustainability.
The recent growth of sensitivity to ecological issues and awareness of conservation has shifted the way people view travel and energized the rising industry known as eco-tourism. Eco-Tourism, as defined by ICUN, is “environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations.”
Therefore, eco-tourism effectively blends the preservation of natural resource and wildlife with the socio-cultural and economic impacts on the local community. This unique way of viewing travel supplies the tourist with a deeper understanding of the consequences of his or her actions, a feeling of connection to the destination and a sense of fulfillment for enabling communities to sustain themselves.
The benefits of responsible travel to the environment, the local community, the traveller and future generations of visitors is notable and should be considered an important platform for conservation education, promoting the understanding and appreciation of other cultures and raising funds to support protected areas.
With the principles of eco-tourism in mind, it is possible to examine and evaluate individual accommodations around the world for their level of eco-friendliness. There are three measures that a property should enact in order to be considered ‘green’: green initiatives, community involvement and eco-cultural opportunities. Green initiatives are the steps that the accommodation takes to reduce the adverse affects on the environment through applying energy-efficient technologies, reducing waste and pollution and using sustainable products.
Community involvement entails the social, cultural and economic effects that the property and visitors have on the local inhabitants. Not only should local culture, traditions and values always be respected during the building and management of a property, but there should also be a commitment to supporting and strengthening the local community.
Eco-Cultural opportunities are activities and experiences made available to visitors that allow them to discover and appreciate the beauty of the natural environment, wildlife and local culture. Arts and crafts, hiking, cooking classes and canoeing are only a few examples of activities that allow guests to delve into the destination and engage with the environment.
There is an increasing number of green travel destinations dedicated to reducing their impact on the local environment by implementing these measures. These groundbreaking properties “reduce their draw on energy and use renewable forms of power, they conserve water, and they reduce the amount of waste they create through re-using and recycling.”
Not only do they utilize green sources of energy and promote conservation, but many are also dedicated to important social policies that ensure the money your vacation will be infused into the local communities through purchasing local produce and employing local people. Policies such as these ensure that visitors and accommodations give something back to the people that live at the destination all year long.
It is too often forgotten that “we visit their bars and restaurants, their national parks and beaches, and so by staying at a locally run hotel, buying locally produced goods and shopping at local markets, we’re giving something back to these places we so love to visit.”