Generally speaking, ecotourism focuses on local cultures, wilderness adventures, volunteering, personal growth and learning new ways to live on the planet. It is typically defined as travel to destinations where the flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions. Responsible ecotourism includes programs that minimize the adverse effects of traditional tourism on the natural environment, and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Therefore, in addition to evaluating environmental and cultural factors, initiatives by hospitality providers to promote recycling, energy efficiency, water re-use, and the creation of economic opportunities for local communities are an integral part of ecotourism.
Many global environmental organizations and aid agencies favour ecotourism as a vehicle to sustainable development.
Ideally, true ecotourism should satisfy several criteria, such as
For many countries, ecotourism is not so much seen as a marginal activity intended to finance protection of the environment than as a major sector of national economy and as a means of attracting tourists. For example, in countries such as Costa Rica , Ecuador , Nepal , Kenya , Madagascar and Antarctica , ecotourism represents a significant portion of the gross domestic product (or in Antarctica’s case, economic activity).
The concept of ecotourism is widely misunderstood and, in practice, is often simply used as a marketing tool to promote tourism that is related to nature. Critics claim that ecotourism as practiced and abused often consists of 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.