The travel industry is one of the largest in the world and is expected to continue growing in the upcoming years. In 2016, international tourist arrivals grew by 3.9%. With this growth comes the realization that tourism has the potential to benefit communities through conservation and financial assistance or harm communities through irresponsible actions.
There has been a concerted effort to bring more attention to the potentially positive effects tourism can have on a given community. Sustainable tourism and eco tourism are two terms that are often used interchangeably, though they mean different things. Both sustainable tourism and eco tourism are environmentally friendly and socially conscious, but their key principles are different. Below is a look at their unique characteristics.
Eco tourism is interested in conservation, specifically as it pertains to the environment and improving the welfare of local people.
The International Ecotourism Society defines eco tourism as:
“Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
Eco tourism focuses on destinations that have special geographical or biological features (rural, natural, wilderness, etc.) and is mostly interested in flora, fauna, and cultural heritage.
Some of the key principles are:
- Minimizing impact
- Protecting biodiversity
- Building environmental awareness
- Respecting local culture and environment
- Providing financial benefits for conservation projects
Sustainable tourism is interested in travel that has a minimal impact on local and environment communities. It takes eco tourism a step further by also addressing the development and economic aspect of travel.
The World Tourism Organization provides the following definition for sustainable tourism:
“Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development. A suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long term sustainability.”
The three pillars of sustainability, which provide a foundation for sustainable tourism are:
Sustainable tourism supports local conservation projects and businesses that hire local staff. It’s broader than eco tourism in that sustainability can be applied to all forms of tourism. It’s also not location dependent; sustainable tourism is just as prevalent in cities as it is in natural environments.
Our Role as Travelers
I think what is most important is thinking about how we travel and making sure we are doing our part in making the world a better place.
Do you support hotels and tour companies that employ locals?
Are the souvenirs you purchase locally made?
If you are interacting with animals, are they treated ethically?
Are you making sure that you leave environments as you found them?