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With summer upon us, you may be looking for vacation ideas. Not to rain on your parade, but your vacation is probably not going to be great for the environment. Most mass-market tourism, the way we often practice it nowadays with no-holds-barred travel, accommodation, excursions, and souvenirs, takes a bigger toll on the environment than we even knew, until recently. In fact, tourism accounts for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions per year.  That’s a lot. So what are we supposed to do now?

Well, maybe you should considered an eco-vacation.

What is ecotourism? According to The International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is defined as:

“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (TIES, 1990)

According to Science Daily:

Its purpose may be to educate the traveler, to provide funds for ecological conservation, to directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, or to foster respect for different cultures and for human rights.

What sort of economic development opportunities are we looking at here?  The UN World Tourism Organization reported in the Center for Responsible Travel’s 2017 Ecotoursm factsheet:

  • US$ 1.5 trillion in exports from international tourism in 2015
  • 10% of world GDP
  • One in every eleven jobs globally is in tourism
  • Largest export category in many developing countries
  • 57% of international tourist arrivals in 2030 will be to emerging economies
  • Almost twice as many women employers as other sectors
  • [The industry is] committed to reducing its 5% of world CO2 emissions
  • Raises financing for conservation of heritage, wildlife, and the environment
  • Can be a vehicle for protecting and restoring biodiversity
  • Must sustainably manage an expected 1.8 billion international tourists in 203052
  • [Tourism] revives traditional activities and customs
  • Empowers communities and nurtures pride within them
  • Promotes cultural diversity
  • Raises awareness of the value of heritage
  • [Tourism] breaks down barriers and builds bridges between visitors and hosts
  • Provides opportunities for cross-cultural encounters that can build peace
  • A resilient sector that recovers quickly from security threats
  • A tool for soft diplomacy

Developing countries are clearly taking advantage of the benefits of ecotourism. However, any location can, and with benefits like increasing understanding in other cultures and breaking down barriers between guests and hosts, it seems like exactly what the US could use more of right now.

What are the opportunities here? Well, there are going to be some great experience- and character-building opportunities for everyone who wants to dive in and truly experience new lands and culture. Closer to home, new tourism offerings can be envisioned, with multiple benefits:

  • For humanity: opportunities for women, hands-on peace building at a grassroots level, promotes understanding and appreciation of culture, low-impact types of recreation
  • For the environment: provides support and funds for wildlife and environment, lowers emissions from travel and tourism, builds appreciation of the importance of environment to peoples’ lives
  • For the economy: new revenue streams, big jobs provider, community development, huge entreprenurial growth potential

As mentioned in a previous post on The Climate Economy, forest breathing is already taking hold in parts of the US. What other ecotourism opportunities can you identify, or would you like to see happen?

Photo Copyright: photoroman / 123RF Stock Photo

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