As editor of Eco Companion, I spend my days writing about wonderful eco-lodges, tours and conservation projects from all over the world. And in my time, I’ve come across plenty of misconceptions about my subject of choice: ecotourism. So I’m here to clear a few things up, and to dispel some of the biggest ecotourism myths. *Rolls up sleeves*
1. “Ecotourism means you have to travel a million miles!”
There are lots of far-flung locations that, thanks to their intense biodiversity and unique ecosystems, are top-draw ecotourism destinations. Think the Amazon Rainforest, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, the Galapagos Islands — the list goes on.
Wherever you are in the world, you’ll find plenty of lesser-known and somewhat surprising ecotourism destinations right on your doorstep. You really don’t need to cross a few continents to enjoy ecotourism.
For instance, did you know that the Central American nation of Belize is home to the world’s second largest coral reef? It’s the perfect place to indulge in some snorkeling on an unforgettable tour! Plus, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is home to staggering levels of biodiversity. It’s a dream destination for any nature-lover — plus, for budding wildlife photographers, there are some truly incredible photo opportunities.
2. “It’s only for rich old people, right?”
Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of old people. In fact, I hope to become one eventually. And I’m not saying that ecotourism isn’t for old people, just that there is no exclusivity clause.
There’s a common misconception that to participate in ecotourism, you first need to have a six-figure bank balance. And, of course, most young people nowadays are juggling tons of financial responsibilities, so it would therefore seem unlikely that an ecotourism adventure is going to be affordable.
This isn’t the case! You don’t need to have a big old stash of money to finance your ecotourism adventure. Of course, traveling around the Galapagos Islands by way of a luxury eco-cruise would be just fine and dandy (speaking of which, if that is exactly what you’re looking for, then have a little peek at one such eco-cruise here), but there are other options, too. Volunteering can be a good, low-budget way to contribute to conservation, and there are plenty of tour operators offering sustainable holidays to the 18-35 market.
Plus, one of the key aspects of ecotourism is immersion in the local cultures. This can mean being hosted in homestays, dining on local cuisine, and generally engaging with and using locally sourced accommodation and produce. Not only is this a culturally enriching and cost-effective way of traveling for you, but it also helps support local economies.
3. “If you have to fly there, it can’t be ecotourism…”
I gotta admit that this is a tough one. It might even be ecotourism’s Achilles’ heel…
At Eco Companion, it’s the issue we’re confronted with most often. “If you have to fly there, how can it possibly be ‘eco’?”
As with many issues, it’s not quite so black-and-white as that. To say that ecotourism can’t work because of flights is to undervalue and underestimate the massive positive effects that ecotourism can have. People will always want to travel, to see exotic places, experience new cultures, have adventures. We need to understand that this is the reality.
And, while ecotourism isn’t perfect, and while there is no easy answer to the flying issue, ecotourism is helping to reduce the negative impacts of travel while enhancing the positive outcomes. A truly sustainable travel industry is certainly something worth fighting for.
Of course, if you can use alternative means of transport, then that’s great. Traveling by train, foot or bicycle can be a great way to get under the skin of a place. Consider joining the “slow travel” movement, which encourages travelers to focus on the journey rather than just the destination.
4. “It’s only for hard-core eco-warriors and treehuggers…”
Hear the label eco, and you might start picturing eco-warriors hugging trees, or hard-core environmentalists camping out in the wild while tracking animals. Now, for some people, this sounds like the ideal adventure. For others, though, it might not seem quite your cup of tea. And that’s OK!
As with the rest of the travel industry, there’s plenty of variety to be found within ecotourism. Increasingly, ecotourism is moving into the mainstream, with a range of high-end experiences on offer. Take this luxurious tour of China, for instance.
And then there’s the wonderful middle ground: comfortable experiences in nature that don’t mean roughing it but don’t break the bank, either. Glamping is a great example of this — low-impact, sustainable accommodation that allows you to get closer to nature without having to go totally back to basics! Try it for yourself at this glamping camp in North Devon, a coastal area in southwest England.
5. “If it says ‘eco’ on the tin, then you can be sure it is eco!”
While the industry’s growing popularity is in many ways a good thing, it also brings with it new trials. Along with the issue of flying, greenwashing is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the ecotourism industry.
As consumer demand for environmentally friendly experiences increases, so does the opportunity for people to exploit this increasing demand and to jump on the eco-bandwagon, so to speak.
The dilemma: How can you tell if an experience is truly sustainable? At Eco Companion, we’re trying to confront this issue by empowering travelers and giving them the information they need to make an educated choice. We use a World Rating System to rank and sort eco-experiences, and award them either Bronze, Silver, Gold or Elite Green — read more about it here.
There we have it. Hopefully this has cleared a few things up, and challenged any preconceptions you might have had about ecotourism. And now that you know a bit more about it, perhaps it’s time to take the plunge and experience ecotourism for real.
Feature photo courtesy of Eco Companion