According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (2015).
Ecotourism itself has several principles that should be upheld by those who conduct, participate in, and promote ecotourism activities, and some of which are explained below.
Design, Construct, and Operate Low-impact Facilities
Let’s face it, there are many natural tourist attractions that have suffered from overtourism, from the beautiful Maya Bay in Thailand whose coral reefs were ruined, to Machu Picchu, and even the majestic mount Everest that suffer from serious waste problems.
These kinds of negative impacts can be mitigated or even avoided if we strictly implement ecotourism, which includes designing and constructing low-impact facilities in order to minimize our travel impacts. This can mean building infrastructures that use energy and resources efficiently (with features such as natural lighting, rainwater harvesting, solar panel, etc) that help support tourism activities without burdening the environment.
Both the tourists and the locals should be well-informed and educated about their roles in helping to preserve the natural environment.
Visitors should be aware of what they can and cannot do that might disturb the balance of the ecosystem, starting from the simplest thing such as leaving no waste behind, to a more complex matter such as pollution control and water-use management.
The locals need to know how to support their family and the environment they are living in, to balance between the need to gear up the economy and to take responsibility for their own hometown management.
Moreover, the need to implement ecotourism becomes even more urgent when there are natural reserves that are being converted into tourism sites, like the one that happened to Kamojang and Papandayan natural reserves.
Both of the sites’ statuses are changed from Natural Reserves (Cagar Alam) to Nature Tourism Park (Taman Wisata Alam) by West Java’s Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA) through Decree No.25/MENLHK/SETJEN/PL.2/1/2018.
The changes in their statuses made these areas prone to tourism activities, including the ones that are being conducted irresponsibly. Hence, governments should start enforcing the law of responsible tourism and require both the organizers and management of tourism sites to incorporate ecotourism principles in their businesses before it’s too late.
Build Environmental and Cultural Awareness and Respect
Apart from preserving the natural environment, ecotourism also highlights the importance of appreciating and empowering the local communities and people who live in the vicinity of the travel destinations.
This means that we treat them not merely as “property”, but as fellow human beings with their own culture and way of life that should not be violated by the tourism activities.
Ecotourism should promote positive experiences as well as cultural awareness for both the travelers and the local people, and also uphold the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in the surrounding environment.
Furthermore, local people should also be involved in the management of the tourism sites as they are the ones who know the area best, and they can provide valuable insights and feedback on how to conduct tourism activities that leave as little impact as possible.
Provide Direct Financial Benefits for Conservation
Conventional tourism activities might attract huge profit that goes straight into the pocket of private companies and even individuals who are responsible for providing the tour. However, ecotourism requires some of those revenues to be allocated for conservation efforts to protect and preserve the natural areas.
That way, ecotourism can be self-sustaining instead of being dependent on funds or grants from both the public and private sectors, because the costs of conservation efforts are far from small.
Benefits of Ecotourism
When done correctly, ecotourism can provide direct and self-sustaining economic incentives for conserving and enhancing bio-cultural diversity and helps protect the natural and cultural heritage of our planet’s natural wonders.
By engaging local communities through capacity building and employment opportunities, ecotourism can serve as an effective way for empowering local and marginalized communities around the world to improve their livelihood.
3. Positive and Meaningful Experience for Travelers
With an emphasis on enriching personal experiences and environmental awareness, ecotourism can help promote greater understanding, respect, and appreciation for nature, local society, and the diverse culture that might differ from the ones we know.
Supporting ecotourism should not be done partially. Instead, it should be a parallel effort from multiple parties to really make it work. Even companies and organizations can take part. In Waste4Change for example, we help our clients to implement Community-Based programs that empower local communities and address waste issues in popular travel destinations. The program will focus on building a sustainable waste management system where the locals could continue their means of living in the most responsible way. Together, we can protect Indonesia’s tourism sites and natural resources from getting polluted by waste.