voteWhile the term "ecotourism" is tossed around quite loosely in the travel and tourism industry, the roots of the word and the concept are not so widely known. According to most records, a man named Hector Ceballos-Lascurain came up with the word to help define the concept of environmentally sensitive travel.
In the concept, nature is the focus of travel that takes individuals and groups to often-remote locations. These destinations have long been off the regular routes of most recreational tourism. In the past, when a tourist made a reservation at a traditional mass tourism stop, there was little or no thought given to the natural resources involved or the environment that was impacted.
But with ecotourism the destinations are generally undisturbed by the activities of human beings. The natural resources and the unique local culture are the primary focus of the trip, along with education that will help the traveler understand the location and its characteristics more fully. In slightly more than two decades, the idea of ecotourism, first labelled by Ceballos-Lascurain, has become a significant sector in the tourist industry. In the process, the fragility of nature has become more widely understood and travelers are more likely to view and appreciate a destination with out exploiting its treasures.
A portion of the world's population will continue to seek out the finest of accommodations and another sector will search for the best prices on excursions that have only enjoyment as a goal. But a growing number of people want something more, though not in the way of treasures or thrills. These ecotourism enthusiasts want to travel to places of natural beauty, but want their visit to have a minimum impact on the environment. These travelers do not care to bring back samples of natural treasures.
As more people take part in this new way, the general public will become more aware of the environment and the need for protecting it. This can be a positive thing, if the ecotourism is planned well and managed very well. Local populations can benefit financially from managed growth of ecotourism, but may suffer if the projects are not put together carefully.
What does ecotourism mean now, more than two decades after the idea entered the public consciousness? In the simplest terms, it means being enlightened about the need to protect natural resources and delicate cultures. Beyond this, it means taking this knowledge along when traveling, putting into action the ideas and beliefs that ecotourism teaches.
Travelers can get plenty of experience with local cultures and with the natural habitat that surrounds an ecotourism destination. But in the process these tourists can also help promote responsible tourism by interacting with local populations in a respectful manner, and when leaving the location, taking only memories and photographs.
As ecotourism grows, it will become even more important that human beings have little or no impact on nature. Travelers heading to remote and often exotic places will bring back stories of wonderful experiences. This positive marketing, by word of mouth, will increase the number of tourists wanting to try ecotourism. Countries will recognize the economic potential of this industry and will begin developing projects that highlight natural resources and interesting cultural activities.
Indeed, much of this growth is already taking place. Ecotourism is, by many counts, the fastest growing sector of the tourism market. Increasing numbers of tourists are choosing this alternative to traditional mass tourism and recreational tourism.
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