ECO TOURISM Ecotourism: The hip way to travel has gone eco By Noa Glouberman The world's largest industry – tourism – means big business. Every hour of every day, millions of people board planes, trains and boats and set off for distant, exotic places. Unfortunately, this large number of travelers – and the money spent ensuring their comfort and pleasure – has a huge impact on nature and the people who live in vacationing hotspots. Many tourism developments and practices, working in the interest of making money, undermine habitats and landscapes, deplete natural resources, and generate waste and pollution. So, what's the solution? How do we see the rest of the world without wrecking it? Many say the solution is simple: ecotourism. The International Tourism Society defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well being of local people." But, are current ecotourism developments always the responsible alternative? Think about the building of roads, parking lots and hotels in national parks to accommodate more travelers who want to observe nature in its pristine form - if it seems ironic to you, you're right. And this is just one example of questionable ecotourism development happening all over the world. Despite criticism, truly responsible ecotourism does seem to have the potential to support conservation and communities. This is why certain environmental organizations are developing responsible tourism practices at a number of different levels, like evaluating the environmental impact, or "ecological footprint" of a holiday. The World Wildlife Fund's Holiday Footprinting tool (www.footprintnetwork.org) estimates the environmental impact of a particular holiday by examining individual components (flights, waste, food consumption) and suggesting scenarios for impact reduction. Although Footprinting and other, similar, practices will help ensure ecotourism is responsible tourism, the future of the industry ultimately depends on travelers who support responsible tourism. HILARY's twelve tips can help you become, and stay, a truly responsible global traveler. HILARY's Twelve Tips for Ecotravelers Do your homework. The International Ecotourism Society (www.ecotourism.org) can help you find a responsible ecotourism company. For example, Green Globe (www.greenglobe21.com) is a worldwide certification program designed to help tourists discover their impact on local environment and communities. Planeta (www.planeta.com) specializes in environmental and tourism reporting. Location, location, location. Choose your destination wisely. For example, while Iceland boasts some of the best whale watching in the world, it also started hunting whales last year in defiance of an international moratorium. Kenya has a strong commitment to conservation and a wide variety of habitats and animals, but countries like Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, also in Africa, are much less responsible with their natural resources. Sleep green. Look for lodges and hotels accredited with the Green Seal Certification for environmentally responsible practices (see a list online at www.greenseal.org/certproducts.htm#lodging). Vacationing in Canada? The Hotel Association of Canada's ECOmmodation Rating Program (www.hacgreenhotels.com) recognizes hotels, motels, and resorts that are committed to improving their fiscal and environmental performances.
Published on May 19, 2009