What is Ecotourism?

Cabarete Day Trips: Canyoning and Waterfalls

Whether you’ve never heard the word ‘ecotourism’ before, or you’ve been travelling sustainably your whole life, it’s useful to check in with the principles behind this important concept.

More than a rigid format, ecotourism is a set of principles for how to travel responsibly. It involves recognising the impact you have as a tourist on the environment and local communities of the places you visit.

Ecotourism is about more than packing a reusable straw for beach mojitos, though that is great. Being an ecotourist requires you to research the culture of a destination and consider how your leisure travel experience will affect others.

Let’s take a closer look.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) officially defines ecotourism as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.’

TIES identifies 3 key strands that ecotourists should factor in when planning their travel experience:

1) Conservation

High up on the ecotourist’s priority list is how our travelling impacts the planet. We want our individual footprint to be as minimal as possible, and leave as little trace as possible that we were there. Check out our post on what to pack on your Caribbean eco trip for local tips before you travel.

We also want to support facilities that are operating conscientiously, with a view to preserving natural heritage and using resources sustainably.

Ecotourism creates financial incentives for protecting natural biodiversity and building more low-impact facilities. Tourism is a massive industry and only a fraction of it is invested in ecotourism. That beautiful tropical scenery might be priceless, but keeping it unspoiled means making it more profitable to conserve it than to destroy it. Economics, eh?

Eco facilities will educate and raise environmental awareness among its visitors. We rely on our planet for so much. Now, it needs our help to continue flourishing.

2) Communities

Ecotourism considers the livelihood and dignity of local communities. It tries to build employment opportunities that empower locals, rather than trapping them in oppressive structures. Money that comes in should be used by the communities to sustainably develop the region and take control of their lives.

It is your responsibility as a visitor to treat your host culture and community with the utmost respect.

Let’s face it, tourists have a bad reputation. Often seen as loud, rude and culturally insensitive, they are resented by many locals. Ecotourism seeks to change the way visitors and hosts interact. The ecotourist tries to find a way to observe and understand a place without being disruptive or insulting.

Those developing ecotourist facilities should prioritise connecting with the indigenous history of the region, and work to empower and partner with the native peoples.

From start to finish, every measure should be taken to ensure local communities are involved and respected, never ignored or exploited.

what is ecotourism?

3) Interpretation: The Ecotourist Learns

Proponents of ecotourism believe in the power of travel experiences to change lives. For guests and hosts to have the fullest experience, there must be room for genuine cultural exchange.

Travellers see the value in immersing themselves in a situation that is different to their own. Some parts are clearly enjoyable, like tasting new food and discovering new sights. But being surrounded with people from another culture, perhaps with different languages, beliefs and traditions from you, can be deeply instructive and valuable in ways you might not have imagined.

Human connection is arguably what makes travelling so very fulfilling. You might not remember a particular meal too vividly, but the warm smile from that sweet old man selling empanadas will stay with you forever.

You can also act as a considerate representative of your home country. Sharing your own culture and stories with your hosts is an important part of the reciprocal experience. Ambassadors of ecotourism will hopefully contribute to improving the international tourist’s reputation, and promoting friendly, respectful cultural exchange.

For this to happen without harm, visitors must cultivate an awareness of the culture and history of the region. Ideally, you want to come away with a deeper understanding of the country’s political and social situation, for instance, recognising how the effects of colonial rule are still felt years after independence.

This understanding enriches you as an individual, but you can also take it back home and tell others what you have learnt. You can be a part of building global cultural awareness and spreading responsible tourism practices.

An Eco adventure!

As an adventure eco hotel, we know full well that being a responsible tourist doesn’t mean you have to pass up on amazing activities. In Cabarete, we play hard. You can thrill-seek considerately, just make sure you do your research.

The ocean is a playground that keeps giving. You can explore it scuba diving or snorkelling, as long as you respect the coral reef and marine life.

You can harness the power of the wind and waves in watersports, like surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, SUP. Local social business Kiters for Communities even upcycles old kites into beach bags!

Swim freely, fly on the trapeze, jump into lagoons, scale waterfalls, zipline through the jungle, cultivate your zen on a yoga mat.

When there is so much on offer, there’s just no need to compromise on fun.