Ecotourism and sustainable tourism

Hi! Yes, the time has come for me to talk about ecotourism and sustainable tourism.

Does this topic interest you? Then read on so that in the end you will know how to recognise one or the other immediately!

My name is Sara, I am a tourism consultant, and on this website, I talk about tourism, sustainability, theory and concrete practices to become a more sustainable operator.

Today we talk about:

  • The definition of ecotourism
  • The differences between ecotourism and sustainable tourism (why do we confuse them?)
  • Hints on how to communicate sustainability in tourism.

    The definition of ECOTOURISM
    Ecotourism defined by GEN (Global Ecotourism Network) in 2016:

‘Tourism that takes place in natural areas, that conserves the environment (through specific conservation projects for example) supports the local population’s well-being and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all those involved: visitors, staff and guests or residents’.

*Small side note on the importance of the sources.

THE ENTIRE Advisory Board of TIES (The International Ecotourism Society) resigned in 2014 due to what they believed to be very serious and severe financial anomalies at TIES. “As a result,” reads GEN’s manifesto, “we subsequently formed GEN in 2015 because we felt that we could not continue to support TIES either ethically or legally”.

I have personally known some members of this original board during my experience of working in Australia. Such a choice, leaving and founding a new group, must have been painful for them, so I believe there can be no better source of information on the subject.

What are the most important characteristics to define an ECOTOURISM activity:

  • Carried out in natural areas (often protected areas).
  • Linked to a conservation purpose and supports the local population’s well-being (this part would seem to be associated only with poor areas). Instead, it is an excellent tool for any territory, for example with the project Non Solo Lago 2015 -2016 the local products to the region of Valle Albano (protected area in the north of Lake Como) where the link between the tourist activity, the activity of studying the territory for conservation – to be restored and diversification factor for the local economy. The project, unfortunately, came to an end, and the activity did not continue. Still, it demonstrated that a similar approach is possible and economically viable in a relatively short period of time.
  • Ecotourism creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education.

  • Differences between ECOTOURISM and SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
    Due to its characteristics, ecotourism can be considered a type of tourism.
    Sustainable tourism activity can be applied in natural, urban or rural areas as it is an approach.

    Ecotourism activity aims to preserve the natural area visited and a positive impact on the local community.
    The sustainable approach to tourism aims to consider the present and future economic, social, and environmental impact on the area by meeting visitors’ needs, the tourism industry, the environment, and especially host communities in the long term.

    The confusion arises from the fact that both are a positive way of doing tourism. Still, we forget that sustainable tourism is an approach and can be applied to various tourism and contexts. At the same time, ecotourism has a specific purpose and can occur in nature.

Understanding this difference is important above all to not give our guests wrong indications (who might look for the natural area where the proposed activities take place as ecotourism). Still, also when thinking about some formal project or context (e.g. having to apply for funds) for one or the other, we should know the difference well.

How to communicate sustainability in tourism
In short, if we want to talk about ecotourism, we should always do so about the natural area where the activity takes place and all the time links the action to the conservation purpose we wish to promote. On the other hand, if we want to communicate how sustainable our activity is, we should first specify which area we consider in terms of the environment, society and the economy. We should indicate what steps we want to take, have taken, or achieve our objective.

I hope you enjoyed this article! Are you interested in this topic?
Please share your opinion in the comments. I always enjoy reading your comments!

Sara – tourism sector consultant

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