Pros and Cons of Ecotourism

by Sean Vandehey


(an eco-tour of the waters around Lido Key, by Fred Hsu)

Ecotourism is the new trend that's sweeping the planet, with the goal of reducing the footprint of the global tourism industry, raising awareness of fragile and vulnerable ecosytems, and potentially reversing some of the damage done in the form of redirecting tourism dollars directly into disadvantaged communities, giving the resources to combat environmental degradation.

Another commonly cited advantage of the trend is that visiting pristine natural areas directly raises the individual's awareness of the impact human activity can have on an ecosystem, and on the local human populations.  As an ethical response to decades of less conscious tourism, as well as centuries of exploitative colonialist action, it has a lot of proponents in the environmentalist community, as well as smaller communities adjacent to the more well-established tourist hubs, who hope for the economic advantages of increased tourism paired with the increased resources provided by eco-conscious visitors.

But it's not always so easy as that, of course, and the risks may well outweigh the potential rewards.  In addition to the oft-cited criticism that eco-tourists still fly to their destination, there are also the risks that poorly managed sites will simply put a green face on otherwise non-sustainable practices; that overwhelmed locals will be unable to deal with a steadily rising tide of foreign visitors; that infrastructure like hotels and shops built for tourists will directly counter any ecological advantage of this more 'conscientious' tourism; and then just the normal risks of any tourist locale, an overabundance of visitors leading to excessive waste, erosion, displacement of local peoples and animals, and so on.

The advantage of this new age though is that it's happening when we have the Internet, and while the majority of ecotourism destinations may be far away, the pool of potential tourists likely includes you or someone you know.  So some things to keep in mind if you or a friend are planning a vacation; do your research and try to find a greener alternative than the most popular beaches or sites; then do more research and find out if the green alternative is really as green as they claim.  You can start by visitings sites like Ecotourism.org, read some articles on Planeta.com, or hitting some of these links.