BY MORGAN KING — STAFF WRITER
As the semester winds down, the plans surrounding your summer vacation might be replacing your research paper in the forefront of your mind. If you are still formulating ideas for fun this summer, then ecotourism might just be the thing for you.
Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society to be “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustain the well-being of the local people, and involve interpretation and education.” The three parts, conservation, community, and interpretation, are instrumental for making ecotourism function successfully as the fastest growing sector of the world’s largest service industry. Director of the Environmental Studies Program and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Brett Werner personally supports ecotourism with limitations.
“I generally support ecotourism unless it is taken to the extreme. That extreme, for me, would be saying ‘I’m going to visit Mexico and ride an ATV in the jungle’ where I’m going to a place to see it, but not doing anything to help, or in fact could be actually hurting the environment,” Dr. Werner said.
Many developing countries implement ecotourism for economic benefit rather than relying on heavy industrialization. Costa Rica, for example, has one of the most successful ecotourism markets in the world generating close to a billion dollars a year. Costa Rica’s success stems from the wide range in ecotourism opportunities in the country, such as rainforest areas, natural parks, and the abundance of different flora and fauna.
“Forms of ecotourism could be rock-climbing in Red River Gorge or the kind of set ups that Costa Rica has going on, where rather than doing extractive forestry, they are settling themselves as a place to see bio diversity and animal species. There is a range of places that can make it work,” Dr. Werner said.
Other countries with sustainable ecotourism include Kenya, where the organization Ecotourism Kenya monitors local environments and rates accommodations throughout the country based on environmental polices, and Norway, who gives environmental certifications to green friendly hotels and activities.
There are many benefits to ecotourism to be sure, but there are a few environmental costs to be considered as well. Critics point out that with ecotourism comes “greenwashing” where companies spend more money on advertising they are green then actually being green. Another problem is the profits of ecotourism are not being placed back into the local economy. According to United Nations Environmental Program, only $5 of every $10 spent by tourists in the developing world stays there and the remainder of the money is “leaked” out of the country to pay for foreign development.
Dr. Werner understands the limitations with ecotourism, but does not discredit the benefits associated with it.
“There are some places, and some areas, that have made eco-tourism work. That is not to say it is good in every circumstance, but where it has been used as a positive source of development, by bringing in money to sustainable development without resource construction or extraction, it becomes a non-consumptive use of nature,” Dr. Werner said.
For those not traveling around the world this summer, there are still plenty of opportunities to support ecotourism here in the United States. Senior president of the Centre Environmental Association Kate Evans encourages “staying local” as one of the best ways to contribute to ecotourism.
“As far as ecotourism goes, there is a wide range of what someone can do to participate. For example, supporting local orchards and farms by visiting them for corn mazes, hay rides, and apple picking is an easy way that many of us participate in ecotourism every year. Many times, small-scale local farmers find it difficult to support themselves by selling produce alone. These types of tourist activities allow these farmers to continue to provide their community with local produce, as well as enjoyable outdoor activities,” Evans said.
Junior Jeri Howell suggests that along with eating and buying locally while on vacation this summer, you should also consider your destination and the environmental attractions around it.
“While vacationing, research biosphere reserves, parks, and other outdoor experiences that will enhance your understanding of and relationship with the environment or consider volunteering with a conservation or other environmentally-oriented nonprofit organization while on vacation, such as tagging sea turtles or conducting trail maintenance,” Howell said.
Whatever your plans are this summer, the most important thing to remember is the effect you will have on the environment around you.
“I think if someone is going to be a tourist in the first place, then trying to do environmentally and socially conscious tourism is the best approach. The advantage of this is having a sense that if you are going and looking at some place, you are not doing so in regards that the place won’t be there or won’t be as good in the future. If you want to do tourism that has a lasting impact, like if you want to see cheetahs in Africa, you want to know that what you are doing won’t make those cheetahs gone in ten years,” Dr. Werner said.