A survey prepared by the Travel Industry Association of America with the support of the National Geographic Society suggests that more than 55 million American travelers desire travel experiences that "protect and preserve the ecological and cultural environment" of the destinations they visit. An even greater number, 77 million, prefer to learn as much as possible about their destination's customs, geography and culture. To meet these demands something called "community tourism" has developed. Community tourism refers to locally-initiated offerings that preserve the natural and cultural resources of destinations, while producing better livelihoods and higher standards of living for residents. It empowers local people to identify the cultural and natural resources in their midst and convert them into assets that can improve the economic life of their community. In so doing, community tourism becomes the engine for restoring and preserving those irreplaceable resources. This style of tourism falls under the umbrella of low-impact, socially conscious travel widely know as "ecotourism." Each trip we take creates an opportunity to have either a positive or negative effect on our destination; thankfully, the choice is ours. By spending our tourism dollars responsibly and patronizing outfitters and lodges that practice ecotourism, we send a powerful message. Our habits can encourage others to follow our lead, and challenge the average company to raise the bar when it comes to managing their environmental footprint. For more information on how to be a sustainable traveler, check out the advice below...
Before you go:
There are conflicting uses of the term ecotourism. Many tour operators use this term for marketing purposes only, appealing to the public's increased awareness of environmental matters. Other tour companies are very careful to construct their itineraries in an eco-friendly way. Each trip you take is an opportunity to make a difference, and by doing some preliminary research you can select an environmentally responsible company whose trips benefit the communities in which they take place.
Here are a list of questions to help you discern if the company you are selecting really is an eco-tour company:
Does the company:
While you're traveling:
- Build environmental and cultural awareness through education, activities, and pre-departure information?
- Provide direct financial contributions for conservation efforts?
- Minimize impact on the environment and the local culture?
- Travel in small groups?
- Train tour guides in "Leave No Trace" ethics?
- Respect local culture?
- Look for lodgings that emphasize local traditions?
- Seek out excursions offered by local or indigenous people?
- Support local businesses and service providers?
- Use locally owned services - hotels, lodges and transport companies - to ensure that as much revenue as possible stays within, and therefore benefits local communities?
- Partake of community tourism offerings whenever possible - walking tours, overnight stays, purchases of locally made products?
- Offer site-sensitive accommodations?
- Use hotels that:
- Conserve natural resources-water, electricity, etc.?
- Use recycled products?
- Use non-toxic cleaning products?
- Use fresh, filtered air in guest rooms rather than recycled air?
- Reduce water consumption by opting out of frequent changes of towels and bed linens?
- Reduce electricity consumption by favoring fluorescent or other low-energy lighting?
When you are away from home there are a number of steps you can take to help ensure tourism remains a positive experience from everyone and that we leave places as we found them:
Be Respectful of Nature
- If possible walk/horse ride/bike only on designated trails. This prevents vegetation damage and erosion. If you have to travel off trail, walk on durable surfaces and have your group spread out so that new trails aren't created.
- Remember you are traveling through the animals' backyard - observe all wildlife from a distance and don't attempt to feed the animals.
- Try not to leave any traces of your visit. This will allow everyone to enjoy such places as nature intended.
- Snorkelers & divers need to practice minimal impact techniques so as to avoid touching corals, and marine life.
- Don't be tempted to collect living or dead items or historically significant souvenirs.
Pack it in, Pack it out
- In many developing countries and remote places, waste management facilities are limited or nonexistent and recycling is unheard of. You can help minimize the impact from your visit by selecting products with minimal packaging, using reusable water bottles (like Nalgene brand), and purchasing drinks in glass bottles as these tend to be reused.
Protect Water Systems & Oceans
- Do not dump garbage. If you bring it, take it back with you. If you find garbage others have missed or dropped by accident, pick it up.
- When hiking do not bury toilet paper, as animals will often dig it up and spread it all over. Instead pack it out. Carry out all plastic or cotton feminine hygiene products.
Leave what you Find
- Wash yourself and your dishes 200 feet from any water sources and away from campsites
- On extended back country trips, don't use soap or shampoo; even biodegradable soap still has an impact on the environment. If you do have to use soap use it 200 feet from any water sources and the smallest amount necessary.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Take only pictures, leave only the lightest of footprints, and bring home only memories.
- Resist the temptation to take home souvenirs found in the environment or at archaeological sites.
- Leave the place you're visiting in a natural condition.
- It is all right to take any trash you find home.
Respect Cultural Differences
- Preserve the solitude; respect others by traveling and camping quietly.
- Uphill hikers have the right of way.
- Local customs and traditions are often different to our own; take time to learn what behaviors are acceptable and what is not
- Ask permission before taking photographs of local people - carrying a Polaroid is a good opportunity to make new friends, and many families will never have had a picture of their children.
- Taking the time to learn a few words and phrases in your host's native tongue is always appreciated and is a great introduction to starting an interaction with locals.
- Help endangered species - do not buy products that exploit wildlife, cause habitat destruction, or come from endangered species.
- Buy locally made goods.
- Travelers can make another important contribution - information. Material benefits often slip through the hands of the local community. Honest information from travelers from the outside world can help people make informed decisions, empowering them in their own economic development.
See our Responsible Tours
page for trip ideas.