Tourism is a booming industry. With many travellers flocking to different destinations around the globe, tourism is becoming one of the most viable business markets in the world. However, air travel, car travel and other aspects of tourism are adding to the planet’s pollution crisis and this is becoming a problem. Travel operators and hospitality corporates realised that some action needed to be taken, and Eco-tourism was created as a solution to this problem.
Eco-tourism is now one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry. Eco-tourism involves the conservation of biological and cultural diversity through education of locals and tourists alike. By protecting ecosystems it has had a positive effect on the local communities and their livelihoods through their participation in projects and lessening the impact on the environment.
A tourist operator who offers eco-tourism is basically an operator who makes no negative impact on the environment and helps to sustain and promote the life of the local ecosystems.
Their activities should not pollute the local surroundings and have a mutually beneficial relationship with local residents through education of how to sustain themselves without damaging the environment. In South Africa, teaching locals how to make crafts from empty cans and used containers to minimise litter and help create a source of income is one example of this. The tour operator should also be involved in the education of locals concerning the environment and teaching them how to live in harmony with it, instead of destroying it.
There are many benefits to eco-tourism, yet many hospitality providers claim they offer eco-tourism holidays and accommodation when they do not. Governments and tourism providers are leaning towards the promotion of anything which involves nature as eco-tourism, allowing activities which are not based upon sustainable development of the environment and communities.
Tourism ventures such as low-impact tourism, green tourism, bio-tourism and ecologically responsible tourism are advertised as eco-tourism when they do not fall under this category realistically.
The Problems with Fake Eco-Tourism
“Green washing” is a term used to describe the occurrence of a tourism operator claiming to offer eco-friendly holidays when they are in fact, environmentally destructive. This practice involves the commercialisation of tourism involving nature and some ecological projects as eco-tourism. Many people flock to these tourism operators and end up doing more damage to the environment than if they had not used a ‘green’ operator. They are destructive towards the environment, are insensitive towards cultural needs and exploit the tourism economy. They are also misleading to tourists as they appeal to the desire to help the environment which tourists have, yet destroy the environment, not giving the tourists what they have asked for.
Despite some operators meeting the guidelines, there may still be a negative impact on the environment and local communities. Eco-tourism operators need to have a thoroughly positive impact on the environment with few, if not no negative impacts. If there is a negative impact, this should be counter acted by some kind of compensatory action such as planting trees and so forth.
South Africa is currently reaping many economic benefits from eco-tourism but there are still problems with displacement of people, violations of constitutional rights and negative impact on the environment from tourism activities.
An eco-tourism operator should be involved in investing in the local ecosystems and conservation. Rejuvenation of the natural resources and the education of locals in living in harmony with these ecosystems is paramount to eco-tourism. Education of tourists, assisting the livelihoods of locals in supporting themselves without negative environmental impact and the conservation of biological and cultural diversity should be not only endorsed but achieved through eco-tourism. Money generated from eco-tourism should also be invested in furthering conservation efforts.