Ecotourismtourism, where ecological has both environmental and social connotations. It is defined both as a concept / tourism movement and as a tourism sector. Born in its current form in the late 1980s, Ecotourism came of age in 2002, when the United Nations celebrated the "International Year of Ecotourism". The tourism industry defines it as being "environmentally responsible travel to relatively undisturbed areas, to enjoy and appreciate nature and accompanying cultural features and to become aware of the need for preserving natural capital and cultural capital,. Ecotourism should have low visitor impact and should contribute to the well-being of local populations." However, this is a vibrant, new movement and there are various definitions.
Many global environmental organizations, and aid agencies favor ecotourism as a vehicle to sustainable development.
Ideally, Ecotourism must satisfy several criteria, such as
- conservation (and justification for conservation) of biological diversity and cultural diversity, through ecosystems protection
- promotion of sustainable use of biodiversity, by providing jobs to local populations
- sharing of socio-economical benefits with local communities and indigenous people by having their informed consent and participation in management of ecotourism business.
- increase of environmental & cultural knowledge
- minimisation of tourism's own environmental impact
- affordability and lack of waste in the form of luxury
Critics claim that ecotourism as practiced and abused often consists in placing a hotel in a splendid landscape, to the detriment of the ecosystem. According to them, ecotourism must above all sensitize people with the beauty and the fragility of nature. They condemn some operators as "green-washing" their operations--that is, using the label of "ecotourism" and "green-friendly", while behaving in environmentally irresponsible ways.
Although academics argue about who can be classified as an ecotourist, and there is precious little statistical data, some estimate that more than five million ecotourists--the majority of the worldwide population--come from the United States, with other ecotourists coming from Europe, Canada and Australia.
Countries where Ecotourism has been championed by the government include Costa Rica and Australia. Currently there are various moves to create national and international Ecotourism certification programs, although the process is causing controversy.