How to Be a Responsible Ecotourist

Earth Island Journal, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

How to Be a Responsible Ecotourist


The Maasai tribespeople of East Africa have been evicted from their traditional lands in order to accommodate safari tours and lodges. The Sioux of the American Black Hills often work as low-wage laborers in the white-owned tourism industry profiting from Sioux culture and lands. Large hotel chain restaurants often prevent local farmers and workers from reaping the benefits of tourism by importing food products to satisfy foreign visitors. In resort areas of Mexico and Hawaii, overbuilt beachfront hotels contribute to beach erosion and destruction of natural wetlands, and generate large amounts of garbage without adequate means of disposal. The fragile coral reefs of the Philippines and the Maldives have been significantly damaged, and dynamiting and mining for coral used to build resort facilities have depleted fisheries that sustain local people.

Perhaps these sad facts don't put you in the holiday spirit. Reducing your footprint while travelling isn't always easy. Becoming an ecotourist means looking at travel from a different perspective, seeing it not just for pleasure, but for a purpose too. The following guide should help you make some informed choices when planning your next vacation.

Questions you can ask to help preserve the environment of the places you visit:

* Is the destination overcrowded or overdeveloped?

* Is the tour operator or guide aware of environmental concerns?

* Does the tour operator or guide contribute financially to conservation and preservation efforts?

* Are available accommodations environmentally-sensitive?

* Are there any advisories, rules or regulations regarding protected areas, water sources or wildlife habitats?

* What behavior is appropriate when viewing wildlife?

* Will the trip support the work of conservation and preservation organizations?

Questions you can ask to help preserve the culture of the places you visit:

* Are the tour operator and accommodations sensitive to the local culture?

* What are the host country's customs?

* What are the local conventions in regard to dress? (Remember that you are a guest and behave accordingly.)

* Where, how and when should you take photographs?

* How well do you know the language? (Speaking to local people in their language demonstrates your respect for their culture.)

* Are there any local cultural events? …

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