Is ecotravel just a buzzword or the way we’ll all be travelling in the near future? In this post we share the many benefits of ecotravel, to you and the places you go, plus we take a look at some of the negative impacts of ecotourism. Read on if you want your travel to be greener.
What’s in our guide to the benefits of ecotravel?
2. What is the Importance of Ecotourism?
3. What are the Benefits of Ecotourism?
4. How Ecotravel Benefits You
5. How Ecotravel Benefits Local Communities
6. Benefits of Ecotourism for the Environment
7. Cons of Ecotourism
8. How Can You be an Ecotourist?
9. Perfection is not Required
The My Five Acres team loves to travel — so much so that we’ve made a life out of it, travelling full-time with no home base.
We also love nature, from the humblest insects to the majestic elephants, from tiny flowering weeds to magnificent oaks, from burbling creeks to raging rivers… we can’t get enough.
We’re painfully aware of the contradiction between our travel addiction and our love of nature. Just going out your front door is, on some level, damaging to the environment — and international travel can be catastrophic.
Is there really such a thing as ecotravel?
Can tourists avoid harming, and even improve, the environment while still enjoying the privilege of travelling the globe? Isn’t the world better off if everyone just stays home?
Read on for answers to these questions and so many more…
The Benefits of Ecotravel
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Though ecotravel has grown in popularity during that last decade or so, it is still often just a marketing buzzword.
Ecotourism and ecotravel are the best friends of concepts like responsible travel, sustainable travel, nature travel, mindful travel, and slow travel — though I would argue that these all have slightly different meanings.
Let’s start off by defining what we mean by ecotourism (or ecotravel) versus how the world at large understands it.
What is Ecotourism?
What the average person means by ecotourism
When used in casual conversation, the word ecotourism often just refers to any travel that is nature-focussed and not too harmful to the environment.
There really is more to it than that.
The industry definition of ecotourism
The standard definition of ecotourism goes something like this:
“Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”The International EcoTourism Society
Let’s break that definition down into its four key elements.
- is responsible travel to natural areas.
- conserves the environment.
- sustains the well-being of local people.
- involves interpretation and education.
Ecotourism, in industry terms, is not just about leaving no footprints but rather creating a positive change and learning more about the places you visit.
What is my goal as an ecotraveller?
I’d like to expand that ecotourism definition a little further.
To me, ecotourism should not be restricted to natural areas. Instead, ecotourism should apply to all travel, whether you’re partying in the heart of Bangkok or trekking the Sahara.
All travel can create a positive impact on the places you visit and the people who live there.
My goal as an ecotourist, and as a human being, is to minimize my negative impact on the environment, while finding ways to increase my positive impact.
What is the Importance of Ecotourism?
The answer to this should be pretty obvious. But here are a couple of things you might not know.
Global tourism has been on a steady increase since, well, forever. In the 1980s, there were almost 300 million “international tourist arrivals” per year. In 2018, there were more than 1.4 billion!
With that many people travelling each year, ecotourism isn’t important — it’s essential.
Tourism can be incredibly damaging to the places you travel and to the planet as a whole. But, it can also be incredibly beneficial.
Imagine the difference between 1.4 billion people causing harm vs 1.4 billion people making incremental improvements. As the tourism industry continues to grow, ecotourism needs to grow more quickly, to slow down the damage mass tourism is causing around the world.
What are the Benefits of Ecotourism?
How Ecotravel Benefits You
Saves you money
While some ecotravel experiences can be more expensive than their environmentally damaging counterparts, on the whole, one of the main personal advantages of ecotravel is that it can save you money.
For example, we encourage people to take public overland transport, rather than flying from place to place. This simple change reduces the carbon emissions of your trip, increases your cultural immersion, and costs so much less!
We also advocate for small, independent hotels, instead of large multi-national conglomerates. Almost always, these privately owned hotels are more conservative in their resource use and have smaller carbon footprints. They are also much more likely to listen to guests’ suggestions for eco-improvement.
And, bonus, they almost always cost much less!
Travel with less guilt
Seeing your travel money have a positive impact is a great way to alleviate “traveller’s guilt” which we all suffer from time to time. Especially when we visit countries with a lower standard of living than our own, it can be easy to feel awful about our staggering wealth and privilege, as compared to the people we are visiting.
By focussing on eco and responsible travel, more of your travel budget helps raise the standard of living for the people most in need.
We also encourage you to commit part of your travel budget to funding local charities when you travel!
Improve your health and happiness
Being in nature can have “significant and wide-ranging health benefits” according to one recent study.
According to a BBC article:
There is already research evidence that exposure to nature can reduce hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure), respiratory tract and cardiovascular illnesses; improve vitality and mood; benefit issues of mental wellbeing such as anxiety; and restore attention capacity and mental fatigue. But more than that, feeling a part of nature has been shown to significantly correlate with life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and lower cognitive anxiety.How nature is good for our health and our happiness, BBC.com
Other studies have concluded the same thing — being in nature increases our feelings of health, well-being, and happiness. Isn’t that really why we want to travel in the first place?
Makes you more eco-aware back home
It’s a natural tendency for humans to notice problems in other countries, states, or regions while ignoring similar problems at home.
For example, Westerners constantly complain about how dirty and polluted it is in Asia.
What they don’t think about is that their own lifestyle — big air-conditioned house, two cars, unlimited international travel — is more damaging to the environment than the lifestyle of most people living in Asia. Not to mention the fact that we outsource a lot of our pollution to the very countries we criticize for being polluted.
The truth is, there are environmental problems everywhere — it’s just that some countries are better at hiding them than others.
Eco travel can motivate you to reduce your carbon footprint once you’re back home. You might look differently at the plastic water bottles you use each day, realize you don’t need to blast the AC quite so high, or start to wonder if driving to work is the best way to get there.
Ecotourism helps open our eyes to the damage we all do to nature on a daily basis and motivates us to consider ways that we can reduce our impact.
Disconnects you from the world of stress
Some eco travel can take you so far from your day-to-day life that you are completely disconnected — in a very good way. If you are dealing with mounds of stress, and the very sight of your email inbox causes your heart to stop, choose an adventure where you won’t be reachable by any mechanism for a while.
There are still lots of places where WiFi doesn’t reach (though these are disappearing rapidly). Choose one of those for your escape, or just go CRAZY and leave your device at home.
Some of us still remember a time when going away meant that nobody could contact you unless there was a major emergency. We survived quite nicely then and a digital holiday can be absolutely rejuvenating.
Reconnects you to your most primal self
While you’re spending time wired into nature — and far away from instant news notifications, social media, and WhatsApp messages — something amazing happens.
You start to hear your own thoughts again.
You might even tap into a part of you that has been drowned out for years.
Yup, we’re talking about your most primal self, the thing that makes you you. This part of your heart becomes buried over time with societal expectations, post-trauma armour, and other layers of self-protection.
Ecotourism can be the catalyst that reconnects you to your True Self.
It might sound dramatic (it is!), it might sound cheesy, or even ridiculous — but it’s also true. We can personally vouch for that!
How Ecotravel Benefits Local Communities
Preserves the natural environment for local use
Unchecked tourism can (and has) led to the destruction of natural environments all over the world, as developers and tour providers abuse the landscape to make a profit.
With ecotourism, the focus is on preserving, or even reviving, nature. This is essential, especially in places where locals rely on natural resources, like fish or jungle habitats, to provide for their families.
Helps communities create a sustainable income
In many communities, there is little opportunity for work or income.
Ecotourism can provide a sustainable source of income for locals who were unable to earn a living before. Even if a small percentage of people are employed in the tourism industry, this financial benefit spreads to other people in the community, as those with new tourism-based jobs spend their money locally.
We loved our experience in Chi Phat, Cambodia, where locals who used to earn a living poaching wildlife and illegally logging are now able to thrive with ecotourism.
Funds social programs
The best ecotourism providers use some of their income to support local communities and fund social programs. Many providers, both large and small, run schools, provide medical care for locals, educate small business owners, and work for human rights and gender equality.
For example, one of our favourite travel companies, Intrepid Travel, puts resources into social and environmental programs through the Intrepid Foundation.
Benefits of Ecotourism for the Environment
Educates people about nature and tourism
As children, many of us are taught to respect nature and the environment, and to take care of it whenever we can. But many people around the world don’t learn about the fragility or importance of the environment.
Even those of us who are deeply concerned about the environment often don’t know what impact we are having. Most of us have no idea of the problems faced in places where we travel.
Ecotourism projects educate tourists and locals about the particular issues in a specific place, which in turn can make us more conscious about the issues at home.
More importantly, great eco travel projects help educate people about the wonders of nature. They make us fall in love with it. It’s only then that we become motivated to protect it.
Provides funds to protect animals and nature
Many environmental projects rely on tourists for funding. Whether they’re rescuing wild animals, fighting poaching in a small village, or cleaning up a natural area, the only reason they can afford to do it is because tourists pay to visit.
When you’re booking an ecotourism activity, remember to ask what the money will be spent on!
Provides funding for scientific research
Studying environmental impacts is vital for improving our understanding of ecosystems and solving problems. Many studies are funded by the dollars that come from eco tourism projects.
Fosters global understanding and world peace
This might be a huge claim, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
When ecotourism is at its best, there is a global exchange of information and understanding.
The more people I meet from around the world, the more I understand that, though we might live very differently, at heart we are all the same. The more we can make cultural exchanges, the less suspicion, fear, and hatred we feel towards each other.
Cons of Ecotourism
Is the most eco-friendly travel not travel at all?
Not travelling reduces your impact to zero, right? Sounds good, until you realize that it not only eliminates your negative impact but also wipes out any positive impact you might have.
When travelling mindfully and responsibly, we think the benefits of travel absolutely outweigh the negative impacts.
Unfortunately, we cannot reduce the damage from travel completely.
Degradation and disruption of ecosystems
There are certain places I would love to see but am hesitant to visit because of the harm tourism causes to their fragile environments.
The Galapagos and Antarctica spring to mind. Though most tour operators in these fragile areas take steps to reduce their environmental impact, even ecotourists cause some level of destruction.
When I think of the extensive coral damage we’ve seen in Bali, the environmental disaster that is being made of Mount Rinjani in Lombok, or the massive beach erosion we’ve seen in Vietnam, it’s obvious that governments exploit the ecotourism buzzword but never follow through on their promises.
I worry that, eventually, all of the fragile and beautiful places of the world will be destroyed. Is it better to see them now, before they are gone, or leave them alone in the hopes that they will survive a little longer without me?
Displacement of local people and destruction of indigenous cultures
In the worst examples of ecotourism gone wrong, entire communities of local people have been moved from their land in order to create opportunities for ecotravellers. In these cases, it’s rare for the displaced people to see any economic benefit from tourists.
It’s important to be aware of these issues so you can avoid funding similar projects with your tourism dollars.
Harm to animals
Animal tourism means big money in many popular destinations. People pay to get close to elephants, tigers, primates, whales, dolphins and more. The problem is, it’s often hard to discern between the companies who have the animals’ best interests at heart and those who are just in it for the money.
Animals are abused every day in the name of tourism (and sometimes ecotourism). If you’re not sure about an attraction or company, despite your best efforts at research, the best policy is to stay away.
Bandwagon jumpers with no credibility
As eco travel and ecotourism booms, the numbers of companies who say all the right things and do nothing also grows. As a tourist, it’s up to you to do your research. Only travel with proven ecotourism providers or those who are fully credible. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Environmental damage caused by travel
Every time you get on a plane, you cause irreversible harm to the environment. Since ecotourism destinations are often in exotic far-off places, getting there is half the problem.
The other half is the damage caused by introducing people into fragile environments. Even if groups are small and nobody litters or smuggles out wildlife, sustaining more people uses more resources. Tourists have to be fed, kept warm or cool, provided with clean water and plumbing. All these things degrade the place you’re going to see.
It’s important to weigh these considerations when you decide to travel. Can your positive impact truly outweigh the negative one? If not, can you change your plans to tip the scales?
How Can You be an Ecotourist?
This is such a dense subject that we wrote a whole separate post with tips on being a green tourist.
The short version is this:
From choosing your destination to booking your flights and hotels to choosing which tour companies to use, always consider what impact your decisions will have.
Being thoughtful and mindful about your travel is the first huge step to improving your ecotourist profile.
Perfection is Not Required
One final note.
No tourist is ever perfect when it comes to being green. No ecotourism company is able to 100% erase their travel footprint. If we accept only perfection, our efforts will never even get off the ground.
Our goal as eco tourists is to minimize our negative impact wherever we go, knowing that we can never eliminate it completely.
We look for the best available options and say “no” when there is no decent option available.
Yes, sometimes we fly when we don’t need to and on rare occasions we stay in a multi-national chain hotel.
But usually, we travel in as eco-friendly a style as we can manage. Our choices reflect our passion for the environment and we speak up when we see something that could be improved.
And that’s all we ask of you. Keep thinking, keep improving, and keep travelling!
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
We’re not going to lie, it takes a LOT of work to create travel guides like this. But it’s easy to help us out! If you book or buy something using one of our personal links in this post, we’ll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Of course, we would never recommend anything we didn’t 100% believe in! Huge thanks in advance! –S&J
Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.