More than 500 million people around the world travel for leisure each year. Most travelers visit the same popular destinations--major international cities, national and wildlife parks, monuments and ruins, and beach resorts.

    Statistics tell us that mass tourism has a wide range of effects on the environment, culture and economies of local communities. Ecotravel offers an alternative to many of the negative effects of mass tourism by conserving fragile ecosystems, supporting endangered species and habitats, preserving indigenous cultures, and developing sustainable local economies.

    By looking at the alternatives and making informed travel choices, you can minimize your impact and positively contribute to:

•     The Environment

•     The Culture

•     The Economy  


Have you ever thought about what happens to a coastal environment when beachfront property is transformed into large resorts? What happens to prairies, forests, and the homes of wild and endangered animals?

According to recent statistics, the environmental impact of tourism development is of serious concern. In some popular destinations, the natural attractions of the area have been damaged or destroyed due to overbuilding and irresponsible development.  

But tourism doesn't have to create negative environmental impacts. In fact, today many destinations and tour operators are realizing the value of conservation and are altering their business practices to protect their natural resources and improve the environment.  

What you can do

• Choose destinations that are not over-crowded or over-developed.

• Select responsible tour operators and guides who are aware of environmental impacts and contribute financially to conservation and preservation efforts.

• Seek out responsible, environmentally sensitive accommodations.

• Follow all advisories, rules and regulations regarding protected areas, water sources or  wildlife habitats.

• Take nothing with you and leave nothing but  footprints.

• If viewing wildlife, never touch, chase or harass animals or marine life.

• Support the work of local conservation and preservation organizations.  

• Learn more about the environmental impact of  tourism.


• In the Galapagos Islands, the number of ships allowed to cruise this remote archipelago is limited and 

   only designated islands can be visited to ensure that visitors have little impact on the sensitive 

   environment and animal habitats.  

• Cruiseliners in Antarctica now operate under strict self-imposed guidelines to limit the number of 

   passengers and protect the seals, penguins and other wildlife from human impacts.  

• And in Belize, a $3.75 departure tax goes directly to the Protected Area Conservation Trust, a national 

   fund dedicated to the conservation of Belize’s barrier reef and rainforest.





As tourism expands and reaches the remote corners of the earth, its impact on local culture is inevitable. The influx of foreign values, money and goods alters the cultural landscape, sometimes permanently. Often that impact is negative, forcing locals away from their traditional lands, lifestyles and heritage.

But tourism doesn't have to be harmful to local people and their traditions. Around the world, ecotourism has helped conserve local control over land use, encouraged local pride in cultural heritage and enabled many traditions to be preserved or resurrected.

•    The San of Namibia and southern Africa and the aboriginal peoples of Australia have recently regained management or ownership of traditional national park lands and conservancies, operating ecolodges and serving as guides and rangers while continuing their heritage.

•     The Cofan peoples of the Amazon are running an ecotourism enterprise in their territory where they sustain a thriving home-based craft industry for local visitors, while conserving and sharing their language, shamanic culture, and traditional knowledge of medicinal plants.


What you can do

• Seek out tour operators and accommodations  that are sensitive to the local culture.

• Educate yourself about your host country's customs before traveling. Remember that you are a guest and behave  accordingly.

• Check local conventions and dress appropriately.

• Be sensitive to where, how and when you take photographs.

• Be respectful of local people's peace, privacy  and land. Ask permission before entering  buildings, shrines or sacred lands.

• Learn a few words of the local language and use them when meeting people. Speaking to  locals in their language will demonstrate your respect for local culture.

• Attend local cultural events. Your support helps local performers preserve their heritage.

• When purchasing souvenirs, support the work of local craftspersons and artisans and help keep cultural traditions alive.

• Learn more about the cultural impact of  tourism.




Tourism is the world's largest and fastest growing industry. The World Tourism Organization estimates that in 1999 more than 663 million international tourists spent an estimated $453 billion (USD).  Tourist arrivals are predicted to grow by an average 4% a year over the next two decades, surpassing one billion international travelers by 2010 and reaching 1.6 billion by 2020.

Fortunately, ecotourism can help reverse some of these negative economic effects. Through sensitive development practice and the financial support of tourists, locals in St. Lucia, Nepal and Peru, among other places, are participating in a sustainable tourist economy via locally-owned hotels, tour companies, wildlife park management and farming cooperatives that supply food to hotels and resorts.  

What you can do

• Choose locally owned and operated lodges, hotels, tour guides, and take advantage of  local taxis, buses and car rental agencies.

• Support local and international tour companies  and accommodations that employ local people  and purchase locally grown foodstuffs.

• Eat in local restaurants and shop in local markets.

• Purchase souvenirs from local shops and artisans.

• When paying locals for goods or services make every effort to offer a fair price.

• Pay access fees to protected sites, even when voluntary.

• Frequent local cultural events.

• Learn more about the economic effects of travel.


•    Women in the booming trekking regions of Nepal are emerging from tea house kitchens to become guides and lodge owners with the help of a community tourism program that provides funds and training.

•    In Natal, South Africa, the park service works to ensure that villagers have free access to parks for local needs and have the opportunity to sell their handicrafts at local lodges. Proceeds from the sales of handicrafts make it possible for parents to buy better clothing and school supplies for their children.



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 © 2001 The International Ecotourism Society Burlington, VT USA

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