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Ecotourism in the Time of COVID


Before the pandemic, most people would have thought very little about the way that their travel affected the environment. But as lockdowns began and we saw carbon emissions reduce almost 9% from the precious year, air quality improve dramatically in previously polluted cities and mobility reduce drastically around the world, it was hard not to take a look at how even our daily commute was affecting the environment, let alone our vacations! While ecotourism has been gaining popularity over the years, ecotourism in the time of COVID has become even more important.

First of all, what even is ecotourism? Oxford Languages describes it as “tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.” The International Ecotourism Society elaborates:

Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement, participate in and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following ecotourism principles:
  • Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
  • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
  • Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
  • Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

By limiting the number of visitors to hotels, eco-lodges and other tourist infrastructures, ecotourism minimizes human impact on the environment and builds environmental and cultural awareness and respect. A big part of ecotourism is supporting local communities as well.The United Nations Environmental Program sums it up best:

Local communities benefit through employment, business opportunities and social projects; and ecotourism also contributes significantly to national economies. In 2017, for example, Rwanda received 1.5 million international travelers. Renowned for its mountain ranges, volcanoes and numerous wildlife species–including great apes–the country’s parks alone welcomed 94,000 visitors, generating a revenue of $18.7 million. 

Globally, ecotourism has been central to thousands of conservation projects that have generated jobs and income, empowering local communities. But the COVID Pandemic could threaten that all. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that up to 75 million jobs are at immediate risk, and anticipates an economic loss of up to $2.1 trillion lifted. Now more than ever, travelers should be thinking about how to best spend their travel dollars.

Booking.com’s 2019 Annual Sustainable Travel Report found that "sustainable stays are growing in popularity, with almost three quarters (73%) of global travellers intending to stay at least once in an eco-friendly or green accommodation when looking at the year ahead." In their recent report on Predicting the Future of Travel, they state that "With over half (53%) of global travelers wanting to travel more sustainably in the future, expect to see a more eco-conscious mindset in 2021 and beyond, as Covid-19 has amped people’s awareness about the impact their trips have on the environment and local communities...69% expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable options.” It’s nice to see that even with the advent of a global pandemic, sustainable tourism is still on travelers minds.

Unfortunately, you can think about sustainable tourism but may not be able to actually participate in it just yet. Many conservation groups rely on ecotourism to provide funding and when people can’t travel, the funding isn’t there.  Ecotourism uses financial incentives in the form of payments for ecosystem services to achieve conservation objectives. With the lack of travel, many of these conservation programs are at risk of losing crucial funding needed to continue their efforts. For example, the United Nations Environmental Program explains how primate and great ape sanctuaries and rescue centers were hit early on with closures. As scientists scrambled to see if COVID could be transmitted between primates and humans, centers were closed but that didn’t mean shutting down completely. The animals still needed to be fed and cared for, but with no ecotourism money coming in, it became increasingly difficult. 

However, there are some efforts to try and mitigate these lost funds from the lack of ecotourism. There are initiatives to promote virtual ecotourism. The World Conservation Society announced a four-year program with the intent to develop ecotourism in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in northern Congo-Brazzaville. Whenever you begin to travel again, you can follow these tips for supporting ecotourism:

Purchase locally made souvenirs and crafts

Choosing to buy souvenirs and crafts produced in the locations that travelers visit rather than picking up imported souvenirs helps keep money circulating through the local economy. By purchasing locally made items, you’re also helping reduce carbon emissions as the items don’t need to be shipped.

Research your accommodations and tour operators

Does your hotel have anything on their website about their commitment to sustainability? Are they hiring locals to keep jobs in the community? It’s important to do your research before booking to ensure the places you’ll be staying and visiting are doing their part to help with conservation and sustainability.

Think about how you’re getting around

By opting for public transportation or ridesharing services while traveling, you can help reduce pollution. Consider renting a bike or walking when you can too! It’s good for your health and good for the environment.

Bring reusable items

By simply bringing a reusable water bottle or food container on your travels, you can cut down on plastic waste and the lack of proper recycling, a major issue in many countries.

Respect the wildlife

We’ve all heard the saying “take only pictures, leave only footprints” and this should be applied wherever you go! Don’t feed local animals as it may make them reliant on people for their food sources. Be careful when walking that you’re not stepping on local flora and fauna that may be endangered. 

Ecotourism lies mainly in respect. Respect for the planet, respect for local communities and respect for the people that are working tirelessly to help conserve and save the diverse species of the world. If you’re ready to book an ecotourism focused trip, fill out our no commitment questionnaire and learn how The Nomad’s Direction can help!

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