What is Ecotourism and Why is it Important?

“Is Ecotourism some kind of hippie treehugger trend?”


What is Ecotourism

To our question: what IS ecotourism?

According to The International Ecotourism Society, the ecotourism definition is: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

“Sounds kind of airy-fairy to me.”

“You realize we’ve been treating the planet as an inexhaustible resource for generations now, yes?”


Ecotourism is focused on uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. There are several guidelines in place for those who partake in ecotourism. Namely, ecotourism:

  • Focuses on pristine, unspoiled natural environments
  • Minimizes impact on the environment
  • Builds environmental and cultural awareness and respect
  • Provides positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
  • Provides direct financial benefits for conservation
  • Provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people
  • Raises awareness to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate

This may seem like a tall order, but the aim of sustainable travel is a big vision. Given the very real threats of deforestation, a decline in biodiversity, and global climate change, ecotourism is more important than ever.

On the other hand, what is NOT considered ecotourism?

Just as important as understanding the fundamentals is understanding what ecotourism is not. For instance, some who are unfamiliar may consider a walk through the rainforest to be an ecotourism activity. But this isn’t the case unless perhaps the particular rainforest trail benefits the environment and/or the local community. Some may also consider a rafting trip to be an ecotourism activity; however, this cannot be considered ecotourism unless it raises awareness and/or funds to help protect the watershed.

“But what if I go to the jungle and pick up all my trash?”

“Sorry, that’s just being a responsible human.”

“How about if I post all the pictures on Facebook to raise awareness?”

“That’s very noble of you, but ecotourism has a bigger scope.”

“And if I feed the monkeys?”

“Please don’t feed the monkeys. You know better than that.”


Ecotourism: Thoughts on criticism.
Some critics of ecotourism argue that no travel can be eco-friendly considering the vast amount of fuel/carbon/resources involved in transport. This is a valid point.

However, there is another side to this view — namely, that humans are not going to stop traveling.

Consider this analogy: Nobody wants an increase in landfill garbage, but humans are not going to stop making trash. So we invented recycling as a means to lower the impact and raise awareness. Similarly, because technology now allows the human race to have a more diverse life experience through travel and much of the global economy depends on it – it’s simply not realistic to launch a campaign to reverse this progress. But what we can do is raise awareness of environmental impact, of the importance of preserving nature, and of the empowerment available through community.

Ecotourism: Why is it important?
To follow on those thoughts, not only is ecotourism intended to have less environmental impact than traditional tourism, but it also holds the potential to improve the social, cultural and economic well-being of travel destinations and local communities across the globe. If we raise awareness of pristine natural environments, are we not also creating evangelists for preservation? If we raise awareness of local communities do we not create a new support network for them?

There were a lot of people who said that recycling programs would never work…imagine where we’d be today had we given up on trying. Fortunately, ecotourism seems to be gaining coverage and popularity. Have you seen our collection of Top Ecotourism Tweets? We think you’ll enjoy it.

If we can shift someone’s vacation destination to be oriented around sustainability and education, do we not also create more aware global citizens?

Puerto Rico Travel Guide BookshelfDid you know there are beautiful, unspoiled ecotourism opportunities in Puerto Rico? Here’s our book on having a great vacation there, and here’s an article on the nearby uninhabited desert island, “Isla de Mona.” Enjoy! 🙂