By Julia Galusiakowska – Art in Tanzania internship
On the cusp of the last years, ecology has been influencing our lives more and more, entering even the sphere reserved for tourism. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively thwarted our travel plans, many believe we are reaching the final phase of the global health crisis. Countries are expected to open to tourists in 2022, which will be a perfect opportunity to reconsider our travel plans. Many may go in the direction of ecotourism – a combination of tourism and ecology.
The roots of ecotourism
Ecotourism dates back to when the availability of means of transport increased, facilitating travels to all the corners of the world on a mass scale. The negative effects of this tourism boom first received global attention in the 1950s: activists called to limit tourism in the Alps and Mediterranean resorts. The topic resurfaced in the 1970s, when the then young generation developed pacifist and pro-environmental sentiments, especially in North American countries. At that time, people started to look for alternative tourist destinations and ways of traveling. However, a serious discussion among international scientific authorities took place only in the last decade.
How to travel responsibly?
An “ecotourist” thinks through every expedition decision, looking at their actions from the perspective of what is beneficial for the environment and local communities. Seems simple, right? Yet, many still wonder what it means to travel in an eco-friendly way.
1. Travel to a quiet destination: some argue that it is the road that matters – the destination is only a secondary issue. And yet, ecotourists should pay attention to where they go. Thorough research is essential before setting out on the road. The less known and quieter the neighborhood, the better. You won’t find an ecotourist walking on the mountain ranges that remain the most besieged by trekking enthusiasts. Also, it seems highly unlikely to meet him in places overrun with tourists. A trip with a small circle of friends would always win with the sprees organized by travel agencies.
2. Choose an eco-friendly means of transportation: green travelers, whenever possible, choose a means of transport that emits as little exhaust fumes as possible. Ideally, transportation and logistics problems may be solved by buying the right bike, panniers, tent, mat, and sleeping bag. The cyclist traveler is an example to follow with their emissions-free expeditions. However, if your curiosity of the world pushes you to the areas beyond the reach of a vehicle powered by your own muscles, you need to use transport using the engine’s power. That is why using public transport, taking a boat or hitchhiking are choices that declared environmentalists also look upon kindly. Although – in some cases – the use of the aircraft or your own car happens to be the only reasonable solution, it may be condemned by die-hard nature lovers. If we, however, decide to go for it, then to be in line with ecological trends, we should avoid “carrying air.” Answer: optimize the course by taking friends on board.
3. Respect nature: when visiting places with unique natural values, green tourists ensure that such conditions could be admired by the next ecotourists. To do that, they recommend:
-Following the local conservation laws: although ecotourism aims to bring us into contact with wildlife, admiring the animals in their natural habitat should be a collision-free experience. One cannot forget that we are just guests in their homes – a dense forest, an endless meadow, or a picturesque mountain range. All the bans usually serve the purpose of protecting fauna and flora.
-Taking care of rubbish: to be in harmony with the principles of ecotourism, one needs to leave the place their visiting in the same condition as they found it. If there are no rubbish bins on the route, every tourist must take back any waste.
-Reducing plastic use: if a tourist takes a reusable bottle on their trip, they can skip buying drinks in non-organic packaging. Remember that throwing a PET bottle in the trash is not a solution: decaying for hundreds of years, the plastic will stay in the region.
-Using biodegradable cosmetics: preparing for a camping trip organized in nature, it is advisable to pack hygienic products based on biodegradable substances.
4. Contact with the local communities: apart from the purely environmental aspect considering the tourism-nature relationship, there is also an interaction with the local communities that should be rethought. It is recommended to always behave ethically and make sure not to offend our hosts with some ill-considered gesture. Before leaving for a foreign country, every ecotourist should get to know the customs to such an extent as to avoid the typical “traps” that lurk for people from a different cultural background. Also, it seems crucial to restrain oneself from any negative judgments that always result from our misunderstanding of local customs and traditions. What is more, it is good practice to support local services and trade. A souvenir from a local artist can remind us of unforgettable moments and support the author of an artwork. Shopping done at the bazaar means not only that we will eat something fresh; it is also a cash injection for local farmers.
The future of ecotourism
Ecotourism is often gaining popularity in times of danger when a tense political situation or natural disasters start to discourage travel agents’ clients from choosing mainstream destinations. At that point, usual mass tourists happen to discover the benefits of this particular form of activity. Amidst the pandemic, this is what has been happening. Although the travel plans are currently deferred, people increasingly realize the potential of ecotourism. Will the world of the new normal be the same as it was before the pandemic? We don’t know that. However, the social distance may need to be maintained for a long time after the end of the COVID-19 era, meaning we can expect a shift from mass to individualized forms of tourism.