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Tourism is a booming industry. With many travelers flocking to different destinations around the world, tourism is becoming one of the most viable business markets in the world. However, air travel, car travel and other aspects of tourism add to the planet’s pollution crisis and this is becoming a problem. Travel operators and hotel companies realized that some action was needed and ecotourism was created as a solution to this problem.

Ecotourism is now one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry. Ecotourism involves the conservation of biological and cultural diversity through education of both locals and tourists. By protecting ecosystems, you have had a positive effect on local communities and their livelihoods through your involvement in projects and lessening your impact on the environment.

Why Ecotourism?

A tour operator that offers ecotourism is basically an operator that does not generate a negative impact on the environment and helps sustain and promote the life of local ecosystems.

Your activities must not pollute the local environment and have a mutually beneficial relationship with local residents through education on how to stay environmentally friendly. In South Africa, teaching locals how to make crafts out of empty cans and used containers to minimize litter and help create a source of income is one example of this. The tour operator must also be involved in educating the locals about the environment and teaching them how to live in harmony with it, instead of destroying it.

There are many benefits to ecotourism, however many hospitality providers claim to offer ecotourism vacations and accommodations when they do not. Governments and tourism providers are inclined to promote everything that involves nature as ecotourism, allowing activities that are not based on the sustainable development of the environment and communities.

Tourism businesses such as low-impact tourism, green tourism, biotourism, and ecologically responsible tourism advertise themselves as ecotourism when they do not realistically fall into this category.

The problems of false ecotourism

“Greenwashing” is a term used to describe the occurrence of a tour operator claiming to offer green vacations when in fact they are destructive to the environment. This practice involves the commercialization of nature tourism and some ecological projects such as ecotourism. Many people flock to these tour operators and end up doing more damage to the environment than if they hadn’t used a ‘green’ operator. They are destructive to the environment, they are insensitive to cultural needs and they exploit the economy of tourism. They are also misleading to tourists, as they appeal to tourists’ desire to help the environment, but destroy the environment by not giving tourists what they have asked for.

Even though some operators comply with the guidelines, there can still be a negative impact on the environment and local communities. Ecotourism operators must have a completely positive impact on the environment with few, if any, negative impacts. If there is a negative impact, it should be counteracted with some kind of compensatory action, such as planting trees, etc.

South Africa is currently reaping many economic benefits from ecotourism, but there are still problems with the displacement of people, violations of constitutional rights and the negative impact on the environment of tourism activities.

An ecotourism operator must be involved in investing in local ecosystems and conservation. Rejuvenating natural resources and educating locals to live in harmony with these ecosystems is paramount to ecotourism. The education of tourists, the livelihood support of locals to sustain themselves without negative environmental impact, and the conservation of biological and cultural diversity should not only be supported but achieved through ecotourism. The money generated by ecotourism should also be invested in promoting conservation efforts.

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