Finding Honest Ecotourism: Challenges and Benefits

This week, we’re getting the skinny on the issues and debates around Eco-Tourism from Krista Peterson, a Health and Safety advocate working with In addition to her passion for environmental issues and green living, she loves to write and do yoga in her free time.

While ecotourism offers individuals an unparalleled opportunity to experience unspoiled natural locations through travel to pristine areas untouched by the industrial world, other benefits include the education that can accompany these trips, for both travelers and native cultures. Offering insight to local communities in these remote areas through the promotion of energy efficiency, conservation of resources and recycling, ecotourism also implies a responsibility to give back to places visited. Whether that exchange is in the form of volunteering, supporting democratic movements or contributing to responsible economic development and preservation of an area, ecotourism requires a different mindset in which the importance of giving back to an area equals the experiences one takes home.

However, with so many goals associated with ecotourism, devising a generally-accepted definition becomes difficult, especially as the long-term impact of ecotourism is examined. Some of the problems with defining ecotourism lie in determining when a particular eco-hotel crosses the line between beneficial to harmful. Besides the relatively straightforward environmental issues of ecotourism, including, conservationist practices and resource management, complex issues regarding the local culture also quickly arise as ecotourism grows in popularity.

Costa Rica Eco-Tourism (c) ICT

Furthermore, under-regulated ecotourism destinations can also put the travelers themselves at risk. In these ineffectually-governed nations, ostensibly eco-friendly companies have no responsibility to ensure the true safety of their facilities and activities. Furthermore, these irresponsible destinations also drive out truly eco-friendly resorts that cannot compete with the types of activities offered. With the scope of activities this freedom from regulation allows profit-motivated companies, they can largely determine their own standards for what constitutes an eco-hotel.

Besides lacking basic eco-friendly characteristics, including renewable energy sources and locally-grown food, these hotels might fail to adhere to general safety guidelines. Especially in nations without strict material regulation, certain products can pose a significant threat. Among them is asbestos, which is still shipped to many of the developing nations these eco-hotels are seen in. Unfortunately, symptoms of mesothelioma, the indications of the cancer this material causes, can appear years after exposure, leading to the delayed recognition and treatment of this disease that makes it so devastating. Other undesirable results of a poorly-regulated hotel can include food or waterborne illness and injury from insufficient accommodations.

Beware of Asbestos

As travelers become willing to pay more for trips to these unspoiled locations, the original intentions of ecotourism are at risk for becoming increasingly obscured and abandoned in exchange for the profitable exploitation of these locations and people. In addition, mesothelioma symptoms and the funding of unethical companies are two potential consequences tourists must often confront after failing to properly choosing a legitimate ecotourism company. However, for all the dangers of choosing the wrong ecotourism company, the benefits of choosing a responsible one dedicated to bringing the true intentions of conservation, education and support to these areas, can be immense. Besides replacing irresponsible travel, ecotourism also spurs on the global initiative to recognize our impact on the planet while also finding solutions to current environmental problems. By devising facilities and activities that both respect and support the environment, instead of attempting to manipulate it, we can make ecotourism not simply a diversion, but a purposeful global pledge.

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