The ecotourism movement grew out of the environmental and green movements of the 1970s. It offers a different type of travel experience where the visitor can become immersed in a new environment. While the majority of travel is for leisure, ecotourism also seeks to educate visitors about local conditions. These factors appeal to a segment of society which is college-educated and willing to spend more on travel.
What Is Ecotourism?
The term “ecotourism” is often applied to any type of tourism which involves nature travel. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as the "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." This means that the travel experience involves minimal impact to the environment and encourages sustainable growth of natural resources. Other types of so-called green tourism may not embrace this philosophy.
Local Economic Advantage
For local economies, ecotourism is a boon. People associate economic value with their natural resources because of the ecotourism monies it generates. This effect empowers the residents and gives them the motivation to take ownership of their land and its use. For the traveler, it creates awareness of environmental, social and economic issues by offering a first-hand view of conditions. Ecotourists may be more inclined to donate to nonprofit organizations which provide assistance to countries in which they have visited.
The tourism industry as a whole has a history of strong economic growth. According to BirdLife International, it is one of the fastest-growing economic sectors across the globe, with an average growth of 4.6 percent per year from 1975 through 2000. Nature tourism is one of the fastest growing segments within the tourism industry, indicating its potential for continued growth and economic benefits. With the growing popularity of the green movement, ecotourism fulfills a specialized niche in the marketplace.
Duke University estimates that ecotourism generates about 7 percent of all international travel monies. In terms of dollars, the The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that international tourism generated $852 billion in 2009. To put this in perspective in terms of the future of ecotourism, there are a few key points to consider. First, ecotourism continues to show strong growth with an increase of 10 to 30 percent annually. UNWTO predicts that the number of international tourists will increase by over 50 percent from 2010 to 2020. These figures show that ecotourism will continue to play a major role in local economies.