The age of tourism started with a bang—quite literally, as the first recreational travelers blasted their muskets and cannons amid lush tropics and snow-capped peaks. Expeditions shifted from conquer and plunder to leisure and wonder under azure skies. Romantic poets rhapsodized effusively about misty mountaintop vistas, while determined adventurers left dusty trails in their wake chasing thundering waterfalls and hidden valleys. Then, grand railways and cruise ships opened up travel to the rising middle class, eager to gawk at peasants in quaint villages or faraway cultures in colonized lands. Postcards, travelogues, and iconic photographs fueled dreams of faraway places. Tourism evolved from the indulgent privilege of the moneyed few into a full-blown obsession for the common folk.
Planet Earth is being taxed by those who transverse it. As much as it pains me to admit it, the post-pandemic resurgence of tourism is threatening to put more strain on the already vulnerable host communities. With our implacable desire to travel and sightsee, we have become complicit participants in the gradual degradation of fragile ecosystems, as growing visitor numbers and carbon emissions disturb environments and populations each year. Driven by commercial interests alone, tourism enterprises have exploited cultural traditions, stripping away their complexity to turn them into consumable amusements. Local economies inflated by outside dollars have raised costs of living and dependence on foreign income streams. Outside values at odds with entrenched local lifestyles have led to conflict within those communities.
Mass tourism has been exploitative more often than enlightening. However, just as travel can damage, it can also educate, empower and inspire. Through eco-friendy initiatives and a mindset of thoughtful engagement, tourists of the very near future will be conscientious enough to tread lightly, foster cultural exchange, stimulate local businesses and promote sustainability. With wisdom and accountability, travel can still expand our perspectives. But we must be vigilant stewards, remembering our impact stretches far beyond the well-worn traveler’s path. Conscientious travel is a privilege and responsibility, not simply a carefree escape.
Ecotourism: The Craze these Days?
Ecotourism champions sustainable travel that safeguards the environment and fosters climate awareness. Unlike mass tourism, ecotourism spotlights responsibility—protecting ecosystems, empowering communities, reducing footprints.This might include staying in eco-lodges, participating in reforestation efforts, reducing plastic usage, or donating to conservation causes. With climate change and global warming threatening pristine destinations, ecotourism provides hope for safeguarding treasured sites while offsetting carbon emissions from travel. The COVID-19 pandemic also accelerated growth of long-stay and remote work tourism. Seeking solace in nature, digital nomads extended trips for weeks or months in rural Airbnb’s and retreats. While enabling meaningful cultural immersion, remote work tourism must still follow eco-principles and equitable engagement with local populations. Ultimately, ecotourism aims to counteract the destructive excesses of mass tourism. It reimagines travel not as conquest, but as a chance to nourish the planet and rediscover our place within the global ecosystem.
How We Can Advance Ecotourism With Our Choices
As explorers of this amazing planet, we find ourselves at a turning point. Ecotourism has ignited in popularity, yet “greenwashing”—overstated sustainability claims—has climbed the ranks right alongside. As we widen our search for eco-friendly getaways, how can we distinguish responsible travel from marketing hype?
First and foremost, by diving deeper! Only this way we can unlock the truth and avoid being duped by embellished eco-credentials. When scoping accommodations, browse their certifications. Validations like LEED and Green Globe indicate rigorous adherence to environmental benchmarks. Steer clear of vague, unsupported assertions of “green” policies.
When exploring destination options, investigate locations where conservation takes center stage. Seek out communities invested in preserving precious local environments and wildlife through national parks, protected areas, and sustainable tourism models. Choosing these locations allows our travel dollars to support vital habitat and species protection efforts. As ecotourists, we can uplift communities balancing tourism with safeguarding irreplaceable natural heritage. For example, Costa Rica has pioneered ecotourism through an extensive protected areas system covering over 25% of its land.
Also carefully scrutinize activities offered. Favor low-impact adventures like hiking, biking or kayaking that allow deeply connecting with the land—over motorized exploits that exhaust landscapes. As ecotravel expert Martha Honey notes, noisy ATVs and jet skis disturb wildlife while accelerating soil erosion. Instead, opt for cycling backcountry roads or paddle-boarding pristine waterways to experience nature’s majesty minus the damaging wake.
Beyond selecting sustainable destinations and activities, reflect on our own habits as tourists. Do our choices honor local cultures and minimize waste? Author David Lodge says, “real ecotourists…tread lightly, are sensitive to local customs and culture, and have the attitude of wanting to help preserve the ecosystem they are visiting.” Travel thoughtfully by conserving water, reducing plastic usage, respecting cultural traditions, and purchasing locally made crafts. Making sustainable choices amplifies our positive impact.
The Five Mantras of Ecotourism
True ecotourism demands inquisitiveness, discretion and conscience from us. With care, tourism can blossom as a regenerative force, supporting environments and communities. More so, we must see past vague ad speak, listen to our deeper instincts, and make choices that pave the green road ahead. Small steps become strides when we engage wisely. The following five principles capture the essence of ecotourism. Reflect on whether they resonate with how you want to travel moving forward.
The Journey is as Important as the Destination
Getting to our destination sustainably is key. While flying is convenient, those emissions linger. Per the International Civil Aviation Organization, aviation generates 2% of global CO2 emissions1. Consider lower-carbon transport like trains or buses, which also enable us to soak in scenery. Author Paul Theroux extols train travel for fostering reflection versus “the passivity of air travel.” Wanderlust’s editors encourage exploring destinations “under your own steam” via biking or walking tours.2 We can reduce emissions while rediscovering the joy of the journey itself.
It’s A Home Away From Home
Just as we mindfully choose transport, carefully select accommodations based on eco-practices. Avoid energy and water waste by checking credentials like LEED, Green Globe or Green Key certifications. Per the UN Environment Programme, eco-certified hotels use 20% less energy and 30% less water.3 Smaller venues like eco-lodges, homestays or green B&Bs also offer cultural connection. Wherever we lay our heads, let’s support owners caring for communities and our shared environment.
Engage in Mindful Savouring
Food is central to travel. Ecoconscious dining means prioritizing fresh, local cuisine that nourishes destinations. Less “food miles” traveled means less emissions. Journalist Monisha Rajesh advocates for immersing in regional specialties, exploring local markets, and skipping Western staples. Food Tank reminds us that supporting small vendors boosts rural economies and preserves culinary heritage. Be open to new flavors that tell the story of a place and its people.
Tread Lightly and Engage Deeply
How we engage is as important as where. Select activities minimizing environmental harm and cultural disruption. Travel thoughtfully by staying on trails, keeping silence at sacred sites, and avoiding wildlife interactions like elephant rides. As Lonely Planet says, “activities should focus on conservation, education and well-regulated interaction.” Choose tour operators mindfully employing and training locals for meaningful cross-cultural exchanges. Smaller group sizes ensure low impact.
Invest in Sustainable Futures
Ecotravel begins at home. While no journey is emissions-free, we can counterbalance by catalyzing sustainability in our own backyards. Become an ecotourism supporter year-round through local education, conservation and reinvestment. Share insights from your mindful journeys with neighbors and advocate for green travel principles. Get involved with regional nature restoration efforts, habitat protections or environmental education initiatives. Consider becoming a guide specializing in your area’s cultural and natural heritage—share your home turf with an eco-mindset. Supporting mindful tourism in our communities allows us to perpetuate those values worldwide. Spread the ethos of insight, inspiration and care through your actions. Uplift your locality as a model of sustainable principles for travelers to emulate. The most meaningful impacts begin with small, dedicated steps.
Eco-Friendly Poland: One Traveler’s Mindful Experiences
Having lived in Poland for over 16 years, I’ve had the chance to discover some truly remarkable eco-friendly destinations and local treasures. One of my fondest is Kashubian Lodge & Spa, a sweet wellness retreat situated amid the tranquil forests and glittering lakes of the scenic Kashubian Lake District. Here, waking to the calls of wild cranes, I felt pleasantly removed from stress. Another highlight was foraging for wild herbs and mushrooms with the expert guides at Ziołowy Zakątek, then using our forest bounty to craft regional cuisine. For those of you planning their first Polish eco-adventure, I recommend kayaking the winding Krutynia River and wandering ancient Białowieża Forest in search of European bison.
Throughout my journeys, I have been minding my carbon footprint by opting for low-carbon transport like trains, eco-lodges, locally-owned cafes, and shopping for handmade crafts. Poland offers endless ways to engage mindfully and nourish a deeper eco-awareness. Let Poland’s natural beauty and cultural heritage inspire you, as they have me, to travel from the heart and tread lightly.
A Force For Good: Realizing Tourism’s Higher Potential
As we stand amazed by nature’s grandeur, we find ourselves at a turning point for tourism. The age of mass travel may have been exploitative, but greenwashing undermines the ecotourism ideals we now aspire towards. Though past tourism was privilege-driven, modern travelers yearn for sustainability, responsibility, and connection. We seek deeper understanding of the places that inspire us, not superficial entertainment.
At this pivotal moment, we must be vigilant against commercial greenwashing and regressive attitudes. Instead, let us forge ahead with insight, nuance and care. We have the chance to advance conscientious tourism – uplifting communities, safeguarding environments, and honoring local cultures. With wisdom and ethics, travel can still expand perspectives, foster mutual learning, and nourish the soul.
The path ahead comes with hard work – resisting convenient illusions, asking tough questions, treading thoughtfully. But we know in our hearts the destination is one of hope and harmony. Our shared journey continues.
- Honey, Martha. Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise? Island Press, 2008.
- United Nations Environment Programme and World Tourism Organization. “Transport and Tourism.” In Tourism in the Green Economy – Background Report, UNWTO, 2012, pp. 85–114, doi:10.18111/9789284414529.
- Lodge, David. “The Art of Travel.” Penguin Books, 2002.
- Rajesh, Monisha. “Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure.” Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
- “Principles of Ecotourism.” Lonely Planet, www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-tips-and-articles/principles-of-ecotourism. Accessed 23 Feb 2023.
- “What Is Ecotourism – Meaning, Principles and Examples.” FoodTank, 9 Sept. 2021, https://foodtank.com/news/2021/09/what-is-ecotourism-meaning-principles-and-examples/.
- Theroux, Paul. “The Great Railway Bazaar.” Mariner Books, 2006.
- Ziołowy Zakątek, https://ziolowyzakatek.pl/
- Kashubian Lodge & Spa, https://kashubian.pl/en/home/
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), “Tracking Aviation Emissions”, https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Pages/ClimateChange_TrackingEmissions.aspx ↩︎
- Wanderlust Travel Magazine Editors, “Slow travel: 20 ways to travel more mindfully and sustainably”, https://www.wanderlust.co.uk/content/slow-travel-sustainable-mindful-holidays/ ↩︎
- UN Environment Programme, “Hotel Energy Solutions”, https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/resource-efficiency/what-we-do/travel-and-tourism/hotel-energy-solutions ↩︎