So, you’ve gone online to plan your next vacation. You’re not sure whether to spend your time off lying on a pristine beach or hiking through ancient ruins, but one thing is certain: you want to visit a place that operates in harmony with its surroundings. As you start to browse the Web for options, you come across a slew of terms like “ecotourism,” “nature tourism” and “sustainable tourism.” What’s the difference? And how do you make a smart choice?
The most comprehensive of the three terms, “sustainable tourism” addresses a wide range of issues — including economic viability, socio-cultural sensitivity and environmental conservation. It actively aims to reduce the travel industry’s negative impacts on the environment and local communities, and its principles can be applied to large or small travel destinations of all types. While it responds to the needs of the present, sustainable tourism also examines the ways in which a business’ operating practices can be altered to reduce negative impacts well into the future.
Whereas “sustainable tourism” can include urban centers and other culturally significant locations, “ecotourism” is a type of sustainable tourism that focuses specifically on rural and wilderness areas.
On its own, the term nature tourism provides very little specific information. Generally, it is applied to rural and wilderness destinations, but it does not necessarily offer travelers any guarantee of environmental or social responsibility. There are many “sustainable tourism” options that can also be classified as “nature tourism” because they involve visits to sites of great natural beauty and ecological value, but not all “nature tourism” destinations are sustainably managed.
Whatever your idea of the perfect destination, you should support businesses that protect the environment, preserve local cultures and allow surrounding communities to derive economic benefits from the visitors they host. In other words, you should choose sustainable tourism providers.
The Rainforest Alliance has spent many years working with hotels, tour operators and other organizations to help develop and implement sustainable tourism practices that benefit ecosystems, communities and travelers alike, while still allowing travel businesses to thrive economically. Here are a few simple ways that you can travel sustainably:
- Choose a tourism business listed on SustainableTrip.org, the Rainforest Alliance’s comprehensive Web database of businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean that have earned sustainable tourism certification or otherwise demonstrated their commitment to sustainability. (Another option: Go Green! A SmartGuide to Sustainable Travel in the Americas, our guide to sustainable services and products in the region).
- Can’t find what you’re looking for with our resources? Just be sure to choose businesses that have earned a seal of approval from a third party certification program, like those who are members of the Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas.
- When you’re visiting a destination, support local businesses such as restaurants, souvenir shops and transportation providers.
- Respect local cultures and be mindful of your impact on the surrounding environment and communities.
For more information about the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable tourism program, please visit www.rainforest-alliance.org/tourism. Have questions about sustainable tourism? Ask in the “comments” section!