used with various meanings, but one of the most
definitions is from the World Tourism
that involves travelling to relatively
undisturbed natural areas with the specific objective of studying,
admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as
well as existing cultural aspects (both of the past or the present)
found in these areas."
Many people feel that
should also include a significant educational element, so that visitors
learn more about the environment and their impact upon it.
Claudine Nagiah states: "The key elements of eco-tourism include a
natural environment as the prime attraction, an optimum number of
environment-friendly visitors, activities which do not have serious
impact on the eco-system and the positive involvement of the local
community in maintaining ecological balance". For the
this website, ecotourism is defined as tourism which has a
neutral or positive impact on the natural environment and the local
population and is economically, socially and environmentally
sustainable. For a
wider and more academic
eco-tourism, further definitions and a literature review, see
Hardyment's article "Ecotourism Definition"
Blanca Community Ecotourism website.
are being made to draw up standardised ecotourism guidelines
or best practices but
there is not yet an internationally-agreed rating system. In
potential ecotourism ventures are still at the stage of trying to
neutralize negative impacts and very few, if any, have achieved total
sustainability, especially in Ecuador.
Ecotourism Association's website
sets out their own certification process, but many of the links are
broken, the English version of the site does not work at all and
nothing seems to have been updated for several years. For
some time this was typical of the state of ecotourism in Ecuador - some
intentions and beginnings, most of them bogged down in bureaucracy and
inertia with a lack of easily-available information for would-be
ecotourists. Things have improved recently with the Smart
sustainable tourism certification program, which originally applied
only to boats
in the Galapagos
Islands, extending to
Voyager certified hotels in mainland Ecuador.
The Smart Voyager program is a collaboration between the Rainforest Alliance
Ecuadorian NGO, Conservación y Desarrollo (Conservation
are some really
ecotourism projects in Ecuador, including award-winning accommodation
such as Kapawi Ecolodge, the Black Sheep Inn (now only open as a
Lodge and the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, which is noted for being
an excellent birding
destination. Many more
community ecotourism projects are making progress and deserve your
is often a need
to compromise between different aspects of aspiring but imperfect
Do you choose a socially-inclusive community project with
in the way of environment-friendly infrastructure or a thoroughly
'green' set-up with composting
toilets and solar power that is owned by foreigners or a large
Is it more or less eco-friendly to stay in a normal hotel you
reach by public transport as opposed to an eco-lodge requiring
special journey in a private vehicle? Are the CO2 emissions
from your flight to the rainforest eco-resort offset by the fact that
ecotourism revenue is saving the forests from being cut down for
timber? The issues are not
white and there are no easy answers. To a certain extent your
decision will depend on the ecotourism options available that suit your
itinerary, interests and budget.
and successful ecotourism ventures have usually required outside
foreign expertise to get started. For example, the
award-winning Black Sheep Inn is owned and run by North Americans.
Lodge required huge investment in infrastructure and training and was
built up and improved for 12 years before, as planned from the
beginning, it was handed over to the Achuar people who now have the
skills and experience to manage it.
businesses or community projects, even with the best intentions, may
not be able to implement eco-friendly improvements until they have made
some money from tourists supporting them through their early
not-quite-ecotourism-yet stage. Also, several of the many
ecotourism directories and associations charge hefty fees for listings
or membership, which excludes the projects with the smallest budgets,
i.e. those who perhaps most need your help.
label hotels or tours as 'eco-friendly' with the most spurious
justification ("there's a tree in the garden") or without any real
understanding of what ecotourism means. Just because a
of wood or is an unusual shape does not necessarily mean it is
eco-friendly. It's worth remembering that eco-tourism is not
the only type of responsible tourism; community-based tourism
and pro-poor tourism also have their merits. Community-based
not automatically "ecotourism"
unless they are also at least attempting to be environmentally
responsible, but they may still be achieving worthwhile improvements.
supporting a venture which
trying to make a difference rather than just 'green-washing' a
commercial business, ask a few questions before
book. Enquire about waste management or energy use
explain what they are doing to justify the ecotourism label.
Having said that,
Ecuador is a
country and most small businesses are trying to survive with very few
resources. Don't expect perfection, but do make it clear that
issues are important to you and encourage would-be eco-tourism ventures
which are moving in the right direction.
of where you
stay, other decisions also impact on
Ecuador's society, economy and environment. For example, you
can buy local
products rather than imported ones. Hire a local guide where
relevant. Carry a re-fillable bottle for drinking
rather than buying a new plastic bottle every time, and buy beer in
returnable glass bottles rather than
disposable cans. Don't insist
having sheets and towels washed every day. Minimize
amount of packaging you buy and thus throw away. Ecuador has
an extensive bus network, so take public transport wherever
possible. Not only is it cost effective and environmentally
friendly, but also a great way to see the spectacular scenery and
interact with local people. Don't litter and
adage to "take only photographs, leave only footprints" for the
protection of the environment, especially in sensitive eco-systems such
as the Galapagos Islands.
rainforests are home to several different indigenous tribes,
some of whom welcome visitors on ecotourism and cultural tourism
programmes while others prefer to be left alone. If you
visit, it is essential to ensure that your
tour operator and guide have the tribe's permission and that the
community will benefit from your visit. Look for
community-run tours which allow you to spend time with your indigenous
understand something about their way of life whilst respecting their
privacy. Treating native
tribes like exhibits in a zoo does not fit with the spirit of
you intend to be an
eco-tourist in Ecuador, you will want to be able to communicate with
local people. It's probably not feasible for most travellers
to learn indigenous languages such as Quichua, but learning
Spanish would be a good start.
Try a self-study
you go, or take Spanish
classes in Quito at one of the
decisions you make on
holidays in Ecuador will depend on your budget, the state of your
health and various other factors, but they will make a difference and
it is up to you whether the impact of your trip is positive.
don't have to be a 100% deep-green eco-tourist; even a few small
changes are better than nothing. As you experience the beauty
Ecuador's natural wonders and see the poverty of so many of its
friendly people, you might be encouraged to do more to unleash the
potential of ecotourism.
Sustainable tourism, responsible travel, eco-holidays and the everyday
actions you can take to ensure that your holiday in Ecuador and the
Galapagos Islands has a positive impact. Definition of
ecotourism, suggestions of some ecotourism resources.