Ecotourism continues to gain popularity throughout the world, but as it grows and becomes a buzz-word, many questions arise. Primarily we should ask ourselves, what is ecotourism? Is it tourism with a focus on observing the natural world in ecologically rich destinations? Is it staying in alternative, sustainable accommodation? Or is it any travel in which the traveler themselves keeps an eye firmly on the ecological impact of their travel, and attempts to minimize it?
As ecotourism develops, it has become less about the latter and more about the two former points, allowing many companies and travelers to profit from the term itself as a selling point. Ecotourism can become just another word for a wildlife adventure or a trek and as the name itself conjures images of environmental awareness, travelers often take little heed of what it should mean to be an ecotourist in the first place.
This surge in popularity, of course, comes at a price, and generally it’s the local wildlife and people that end up fronting the bill. Often, since increased tourism can bring a great deal of financial reward to local communities, the damage done is overlooked, but recently a small Amazonian town of Nazareth, Colombia, took the drastic decision to ban tourists from its perimeters. This, unfortunately, is denying travelers access to one of the most gorgeous and ecologically rich areas of Colombia. It also helps to highlight problems developing in the world of ecotourism.
The decision is based on two main factors. Firstly, the behavior of the tourists themselves causes discomfort in the community, as resident Grimaldo Ramos explicates: “Imagine if you were sitting in your home and strangers came in and started taking photos of you. You wouldn’t like it.” The overall complaint is that tourists fail to distinguish between the locals and the wildlife they have come to observe; the sense that everything in the town (including the people) is a peculiarity or spectacle is pervasive amongst travelers and offensive to locals. “Tourists come and shove a camera in our faces,” Ramos complains.
The second grievance is that locals actually see very little in the way of increased income, despite the influx of tourism. Tourists may buy a few trinkets but as Juvencio Pereira explains, “it is the travel agencies that make the good money”. For travelers this can be difficult to avoid, since agencies allow ease of travel to difficult-to-reach areas. You can, however, ensure you research your travel agency well, and see that they make an attempt to contribute to the world of ecotourism, rather than merely benefit from it.
We at See Colombia Travel believe that ecotourists should be sensitive to their adopted environments, which means caring for the wildlife and showing understanding to the locals. We encourage sensitivity when traveling and understand that ecotourism is much more than just a buzzword, that’s why we donate a portion of every tour we sell to Fundacion Rio Urbano, a non-profit organization seeking to improve the conditions of water sources in Colombia.
Ecotourism is much more than just seeing the majestic wealth of natural resources our world has to offer – it’s an attempt to travel and do what you can to limit your impact on where you go and even, if possible, to help out a little.