– Story and images by Helen Truszkowski
“Ecotourism” started more than a decade ago as a dubious tree-hugger concept to protect fragile ecosystems. A modest concept pushed by idealists is now the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry. The goal was to develop tourism not by destroying the environment but by inviting foreign visitors to experience it as if they were locals. It has surpassed the expectations of even the most devoted idealists.
But nowadays a clearer conscience doesn’t have to mean camping, couscous and cold showers. With every comfort to hand, ecotourism has gone mainstream. Simply put, this sort of responsible, green or sustainable travel is about helping – as opposed to harming – the holiday spots we check into each year. It’s about going on vacation in a way that’s fulfilling for you, but also makes sure your trip doesn’t scar and pollute the beauty you go looking for: that it is good for the people and places you visit.
Now if you’re anything like me, you go on holiday to have a good time, not to save the world. But be aware that the vacation choices we make do have an impact. And, be honest, wouldn’t you like to know your break could be about giving, not just taking? What ecotourism aims to do is saturate holiday spots with a renewed beauty that’s more than just skin deep. Finding an authentic way to do this is the real challenge. One of the best ways is to book a community based tour which benefits local communities, particularly indigenous peoples and villagers. For instance, villagers might host visitors like you in their own village, manage the scheme communally and share the profits. These type of tours open up a world of adventure and opportunity. You can visit the Amazon, trek through the Andes or the Sinai, experience the magic of the central Australian desert, learn to care for local wildlife, even spend the night with a hill tribe in rural Thailand.
I took my own six-year-old-son son with me to stay in a mud-hut village in Zambia and to volunteer in the local school. These tours began as an effort to end the local villagers’ feeling of exclusion. They saw overseas visitors arrive and leave without ever having any meaningful form of social contact with them. They wanted to get more involved in tourism, to raise funds for the local school and to support vulnerable members of their community. Over the three days I visited I hauled water on my head (spilling more than I saved), I learned to strip maize kernels and swapped candlelit tales over a meal of boiled groundnuts. Trailed by his pack, my son George appeared and reappeared momentarily, increasingly unkempt, Lord of the Flies-style, his face smudged with sweat and dust. It’s good community-based tours like this that will take you beyond the expected. You’ll get to meet people from different countries and learn far more about them and their culture than on conventional tours. You’ll feel better knowing that your visit is genuinely helping your hosts by putting money back in the pockets of those who need it most. And if you want to simply lie on a beach…. well, sure you can do that too. There are eco tours that feature some of the best white powder beaches on the planet, and luxury hotels with a genuine commitment to sustainability that compromise on neither comfort or thread count.
So now I’ve sold you on the idea that holidays can go way beyond suntans, snapshots and bad sandals and that being an eco-traveler is way more satisfying than following the herd to the usual resorts and attractions, do remember careful preparation is key. Do your research, browse the web and search for ‘green vacations’, ‘responsible holidays’, ‘sustainable travel’ alongside ‘ecotourism.’ Try to find a holiday spot where the focus is on energy and water efficiency – any ecotourist destination worth the name will have strategies for these – as well as for minimizing waste, recycling, using environmentally sustainable and preferably local materials, sourcing organic or other low-impact local food, generating renewable energy where possible, and avoiding pollution.
Now, let’s face it, with the entire world is at your disposal, isn’t it good to know – wherever you land – holidaying like this can mean not only leaving the planet as untouched as the day you booked… your trip might even do some good.
Helen Truszkowski appears as a guest writer at original world website – Go Get Lost.
Editor’s note: Original World Inc is a member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), dedicated to transforming travelers into advocates for sustainability and justice worldwide.
For more information on ecotourism click here.
Original World Travel offers travel to Africa including Morocco, Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Africa.