Climate Change

Ecotourism: Travel and Climate

Pina Coladas on a sandy beach, palm trees, and the smell of fabulous food. These are a few of our favourite things. But what if the holidays you craved were the exact source of climate change, a reality credibly accepted as the cause of human action? Would the cocktails on the beach suddenly become rather more sour? And if they did, how can we adapt our travel plans in order to adequately reduce the environmental impact of climate change?  

We all know the answers. Driving electric, not diesel. Eating less meat. Reusing, not merely recycling. Ahead of the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26) later next month, in a world still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, ecotourism has become a more popular form of travel. People understand the environmental cost of long-haul flying, and many are willing to adjust their travel plans accordingly. Some of the largest US airports will soon be using new software, developed by the US space agency NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that calculates when an airplane must leave the boarding gate to reduce runway idling. Given the aviation industry accounts for three percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, the move has been greeted kindly by environmental experts and scientists alike. 

The aim is to opt for greener travel solutions. Ecotourism is a form of responsible travelling, including pursuits of natural areas as well as conserving the environment, all whilst limiting the impact of the excursions and benefiting the lives of local people. The idea of ecologically sensitive travel was granted its own definition in the Oxford Dictionary in 1982, but its roots are deeper. In 1901, the annual expedition, known as the Sierra Club’s Outing program, allowed travellers to explore the natural wonders of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

During this time, many developing countries started sustainable tourism programs, including the Mexican Agency, Ecotours, founded by renowned environmentalist Héctor Ceballos-Lascuráin. In 2002, The United Nations General Assembly designated 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism.  According to a recent report by the IMARC Group, the ecotourism market is set to grow by 14.4% in the next five years. Furthermore, a study by ​​the international firm, Bloom Consulting, found that most digital searches about ecotourism around the world were directed towards the Latin American country of Costa Rica. Environmentally conscious travelling has profound benefits for not only our planet but also its people,  and by focusing profits on small local communities local people are able to control prices without the pressure of larger tourism corporations thus making the experience much cheaper.

Questions remain, however, about the supposed eurocentricity of the Ecotourism market. How might a local community benefit if they themselves can’t afford the same experience? Costa Rica’s widely growing publicity and reputation have caused a new wave of visitors that have wreaked havoc for the country’s rainforests, reefs, and beaches. Excessive tourism, in any form, can prove to be a destructive force.

And yet, hope pervades the air. The hospitality sector is fighting back after a long period of reduced business, and many providers are keener than ever to tap into the growing trend for sustainable travel. When push comes to shove, the greatest cost of all is our planet. 

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Sam Gordon Webb

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January 2022
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