Ecotourism, a term that is often thrown around as a marketing term. It is often misleading and misunderstood. The Good Bears believe that it is important to clear up this term and provide a definition to help others understand our perception of this term since an important aspect of The Good Bears project, In A Wink, is to promote responsible and ecological tourism for both the traveler but also the host (either country, city, etc).
A common belief is that simply visiting a natural park or participating in outdoor activities is enough to be considered as ecological, and responsible, tourism. In our opinion, this is a good start but this should not be considered as ecotourism. The Good Bears believe that ecotourism is much more than this. The following three branches are pillars for our definition of ecotourism.
Sustainability signifies a long term ecological balance. This signifies that there is an understanding of the ecosystems natural resources without an exploitation of them. It is easy to visit an ecosystem without keeping in mind the long term impact of your visit however it is important to start incorporating this thought into your travels. How will I impact the location I am visiting? What is my ecological footprint while I travel? This should not stop you from visiting new places, or experiencing new things. This should simply inspire you to participate in activities that do not harm the environment or exploit their natural resources. It is also really important to inform yourself prior to participating in activities. Planning on doing a safari? Great! However it is important to note that many safari’s actually exploit animals by calling in other guides to surround the animals to allow a tourist to see them. An easy fix is to simply request that your driver does not do this. We believe it is much more important to allow the animal to live freely without the additional stress of being surrounded than to see them ourselves.
Conservation signifies to protect and maintain an ecosystem the way it is. It is not our place to play “God” and control a certain ecosystem. It is, however, our responsibility to protect the ecosystem from human destruction. It is not correct that a species is endangered due to our human activity and we must take action to protect species from mass extinction due to us. An important part of ecotourism is minimizing our ecological footprint by promoting the conservation efforts being done to protect the ecosystems we visit. This may be through supporting associations, participating in the efforts or even donating to various causes. It is also important to inform yourself about the actions that your hotel, airline or even eateries do to protect, or even harm, the local environment.
It is important to note that conservation efforts can also be misleading due to the fact that they are often associated to volunteer-tourism. This occurs when an association promotes itself as conservation oriented however it is much more into exploiting the ecosystem to unknowing volunteers. These associations are actually doing much more harm than good. This often occurs with conservation of animals such as lions, leopards, bears, etc. People will pay, a hefty sum, to go volunteer with these animals. Unfortunately, these animals are not free and are often sedated to allow the volunteers to approach them without putting themselves at harms way. This is unacceptable and it is important to inform yourself about the ethical values of any association.
3- Involving local communities
The last branch for our definition of ecotourism is that any form of responsible tourism should benefit the local communities. It is important to note that this does not solely signify through monetary profit but also through employment, education, dietary and sanitary improvements. It is important to promote job opportunity and educational opportunities in communities that may not be as fortunate as we are. Often, it is the locals that have a better understanding of the actual changes happening in their ecosystems and it is important to allow them to be involved in the development of proper tourism in their region. This does not take away from the experts that have studied and learned the full details of the location, and we would like to highlight that we truly appreciate them too. As a traveller, it is important to experience the various cultures, interact with the locals and learn from them. We, personally, prefer discussing and interacting with locals rather than solely meeting people from our countries. This should be everyone’s preference and it is important to support compagnies, associations and efforts that involve the local communities. It is much more important to teach somebody how to fish rather than simply giving them a fish.
All three of these branches are critical to describing responsible and ecological tourism. The Good Bears understand that it may be difficult to plan a trip by being 100% ecological however any efforts done is a step in the right direction. Throughout the project In A Wink, The Good Bears will demonstrate tips, associations, activities and accommodations that may help you plan an ecological trip.