For the conscientious traveller, certain countries are better choices than others. The world’s most ethical travel destinations, selected for their support for ecotourism, environmental protection and social development are, in alphabetical order, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Kenya, Peru, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Uruguay.
At first glance, ecological concerns and tourism appear unlikely bedfellows. But according to the World Wildlife Fund, the concept of ecotourism combines “the pleasures of discovering and understanding spectacular flora and fauna and peoples of traditional cultures with an opportunity to contribute to their protection.” (Please click “more” for rest of story).
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WWF advocate using travel to advance the cause of conservation of the world’s natural and cultural resources. By promoting tourism as an economic vehicle, it is hoped that local populations will choose protection of their environs as more proftable in the long term than their decimation.
Travelers who have trekked through the teeming Amazon rainforest, observed Papua New Guinea’s fantastical Huli wigmen or witnessed the great wildebeest migration in Tanzania’s sweeping Serengeti are in the forefront of worldwide conservation movements.
Firsthand examination of fragile ecological and cultural systems can translate into concern and effective action by travelers who treasure these experiences. Many experts feel that endangered areas have little chance of survival without direct public awareness of their existence. In contrast to reading of man’s assaults upon our world or seeing the environmental ravages pictured on CNN, which may fail to convey the impact of personal witness, travel can convert the most indifferent American into a pro-Earth activist.
Ecotourism, summed up as socially and environmentally responsible travel, is recognized as a vital component of efforts to marshal defenders of our threatened habitat.
Each of us, here and abroad, can make small but important contributions to preservation of the only home we’ve got by “taking only photographs and leaving only footprints.” This concept translates into don’t litter; don’t disrupt wildlife; don’t disturb natural or cultural environments; and don’t support irresponsible tours and exploitative attractions.
Concerned travelers will want to know how to distinguish among tour operators who claim to espouse the precepts of ecotourism. Follow the money trail. Is any going into the local economy? Groups should be small, under 25 participants in ecologically and culturally fragile areas. The operator should have a mission to inform and should offer a strong educational component.
For information and referrals to tour operators approved for “exploring without exploiting” the Earth, contact the International Ecotourism Society, (202) 347-9203 or www.eco tourism.org; or the UK-based International Centre for Responsible Tourism at the University of Greenwich (http://www.icrtourism.org/), Or (510) 540-0742 in the U.S.
As a group, the ever-burgeoning number of eco-cruise and land operators believe thoughtfully managed tourism can sustain local and regional economies. They demonstrate that promoting treks through a forest is more profitable than selling the forest’s lumber; that countries can support the sighting of whales rather than their illegal slaughter; that game safaris can prove more lucrative to villagers than the poaching of ivory and animal body parts. Destruction of the world’s natural and cultural wonders usually results from greed or ignorance. Responsibly developed tourism can make a difference – sometimes the difference between survival and complete destruction of an endangered region or cultural group.
Some of the most acclaimed eco-oriented programs are sponsored by major nonprofit institutions and are led by renowned scientists and authors and professors. They include, among numerous top contenders, the National Audubon Society, (212) 979-3000 or www.audubon.org ; the American Museum of Natural History Discovery Series, (800) 462-8687 or www.amnh .org; and Smithsonian Journeys, (877) 338-8687 or www .smithsonianjourneys.org.
More than 400 adventure and special-interest tour operators around the globe, many of whom espouse a pledge to minimize the cultural and environmental impact of tours and to support “the local management of environmental, cultural and economic values already in place at a destination,” are listed with Specialty Travel Index. For a subscription to STI magazine listing tour operators, programs and contact details, call (888) 624-4030 toll-free, or access www.spectrav .com to view STI’s exhaustive resource and major wish list for the dedicated globetrotter.
Ecotourism does not equate to privation for the traveler. On the contrary, a significant number of lodges and resorts, even many in remote wilderness areas, offer exquisitely sybaritic creature comforts, all delivered within eco-conscious guidelines. And scores of well-known hotels and resorts are “going green,” modifying their development and operations policies to reflect a greater concern for conservation of and compatibility with the environment. These pioneers find that they are saving huge sums of money by conserving water and power as well as attracting new business, further evidence that profit and responsible tourism are not incompatible. The Green Hotels Association, (713) 789-8889 or www.greenhotels.com , encourages and supports ecological consciousness within the hospitality industry and offers a list of its members.
Hotels under the Hyatt, InterContinental, Mandarin Oriental, Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn umbrellas, to name a few, distribute conservation information to guests, recycle cans and packaging, modify their cooling and heating systems and install water flow-reduction devices. Managers report that guests express appreciation for such efforts towards environmental friendliness.
An excellent guide to the top tour operators, destinations, and lodgings following sound precepts can be found in the book “Eco Travel and Sustainable Tourism” by Pamela Lanier (Ten Speed Press, 2003).