Ecotourism is becoming a big trend with many travellers who want to decrease their environmental impact whilst experiencing authentic culture and untouched nature.
Yet with an increase in tour operators offering eco tours and green travel, it is important for all traveling gals to make sure that companies actually offer what they say they’re offering. After all, you don’t want to embark on an eco tour of the Amazon only to find that your ‘green’ tour operator dumps the plastic waste over the side of the boat.
Even for those solo, off-the-beaten-track travellers like myself, there often comes a time when you choose to or have to join a tour. Here lies the ethical dilemma for many people: How do you choose an ethical eco tour operator?
What is ecotourism?
According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
In essence, ecotourism and eco travel is where your impact and the tour’s impact, both environmentally and culturally, are minimal, positive, and benefit all parties.
With many people making conscious purchases at the supermarket since realising their power as consumers, so too do travellers want to make ethical choices whilst abroad. After all, the tourism industry is huge; in 83% of developing countries it is one of the leading incomes for the local economy. Ecotourism benefits local communities because the tour operators are often small, locally based companies rather than large-scale foreign tour operators.
Where you spend your hard-earned dollars makes a difference, so it’s important to choose the right eco tour operator!
How to Choose the Right Eco-Travel Company
Do your research
With the rise in online feedback sites such as TripAdvisor, you can easily search for reviews of tour operators from past travellers. In addition to doing this, be sure to ask other travellers who are staying in the same place for their advice. Word gets around quickly, and they will be some of the best resources for which operators are good, cheap, not like the brochure, etc.
Don’t just take things at face value.
Words like ‘eco’ and ‘green’ are buzzwords right now, and many tour operators are using them to lure clients. Make sure that the operator you use really believes in the ethos of green and eco travel. To find out, ask them questions about their tour, their sustainability practices, and what they give back to the local community.
Check out eco-tour organisations and boards.
See if there is a tour board or overarching organisation in the area in which you are traveling. They may have rules and guidelines that need to be followed to protect the environment and avoid exploiting the local communities.
Make sure that the tour operators do not interact with the local wildlife.
You want to make sure that the tour on which you choose to spend your hard-earned money is not harming the local flora and fauna. This includes feeding, touching, and luring wildlife to come into contact with them or their tour group via food. This sort of behaviour can be harmful to the health of the native wildlife or introduce disease. It also breaks the natural eco-system, causing the animals to become reliant on food handouts.
Smaller group sizes are better than large ones.
After all, this is about lowering your environmental impact, and a tour group of 30 will not do that.
Ensure that the local communities benefit from the tours.
Oftentimes, the tour groups simply expect you to buy local handicrafts instead of contributing towards sustainable development and growth for the local people. This point is really important, as you do not want to choose an operator that exploits the local communities in which it operates.
Make sure that your accommodations are made from sustainable materials and make as small an impact on the local environment as possible.
How you choose to spend your money overseas will have an impact locally, so choosing a reputable eco or green tour is very important; make sure the wrong people aren’t the ones benefitting from your money.
By making some inquiries and doing your research, you can help ensure that your eco tour is sustainable and a positive experience not just for you but for your host communities and the environment, too!
Have you gone on an eco tour? Have any tips on choosing the right tour company? Post them in the comments below!