Each year, the world is becoming more in tune with a growing need to reframe its focus toward sustainability. Many industries around the globe are, therefore, beginning to accept their responsibility as shepherds of the planet. They are adopting practices that will help limit the damage and repair the wounds we have inflicted upon our only home.
One field that has positioned itself as a leader in this shift towards eco-conscious practices is the tourism industry. Over the last few decades, tourism, as we know it, has begun to shed away from harmful, commercially obsessed practices as it integrates sustainability practices into its business models. This shift has developed the industry into what we now call eco-friendly tourism.
What is Eco-Friendly Tourism?
Eco-friendly tourism is a shared belief that the industry should accept and organize itself around more environmentally conscious values, belief systems, and practices. It is not a specific set of circumstances or rules but rather a lifestyle, a commitment, and a moral code for a significant and profitable industry that currently accounts for over 7.6 trillion dollars per year.
The History of Eco-Friendly Tourism
Eco-Friendly Tourism began to catch on first during the late 1980s. However, it can be argued that the earliest incarnation arose in 1901 with the launch of the Sierra Club’s Outing program. This annual expedition led hikers deep into the Sierra Nevada so those “persons could become active workers for the preservation of the forests.”
However, the concept began to incubate further in the 1970s, paralleling the rise of environmental activism. But it was not until decades later when Megan Epler Wood, co-founder of the International Ecotourism Society, would popularly define the term “eco-friendly tourism” as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people.”
Eco-Friendly Tourism Today
Today, eco-friendly tourism has firmly taken root, and its principles have become more solidified and integrated into our modern tourism infrastructure.
One of the clearest tenants of our present iteration of eco-friendly tourism is the necessity to build environmental and cultural awareness through tourism. Rather than view tourism as a means of profit, relaxation, and entertainment, eco-friendly tourism sees travel as an opportunity to create an exchange of ideas. By traveling to new areas of the globe and spending money locally, travelers are purchasing the opportunity to learn more about their global environment, and citizens of those countries profit as well from both the business and the exchange of ideas. Travel is no longer merely a joy ride for overworked vacationers, but rather an opportunity to communicate, educate, and renew our commitment to our planet.
Other core tenants of the eco-friendly tourism movement today include designing tours, facilities, and experiences that abide by eco-conscious principles, minimizing environmental damage through their operations, providing financial benefits for the conservation movement, and supporting fundamental human rights in every corner of the globe.
Today an eco-friendly vacation may look like a trip to a sustainability resort, like the Montage Deer Valley resort in Park City, Utah. For others, eco-friendly tourism may mean embedding themselves within the home culture of the location, buying from local businesses, and honoring local traditions. Again, eco-friendly tourism does not conform to any hard and fast rules, but instead, it is organized around a commitment to a shared set of principles, all of which lead to the bettering of our environment and our globe.
The Future of Eco-Friendly Tourism
The numbers are clear; eco-friendly tourism is growing at a very impressive pace. Over the last three years, 60 percent of U.S. travelers reported that they opted for a “sustainable” trip over conventional tourism, delineating that they believed they “had a responsibility to make sure their trips do not cause harm to a destination.”
With tourism growing at an unbelievable rate, the industry already accounts for over 10% of the global economy. This shift towards eco-friendly tourism is undoubtedly a heartening sign for the future of our planet.
As one of our largest industries aligns more deeply with conservationist principles and tourism dollars are spread amongst local communities, sustainability resorts, and eco-friendly businesses, we come ever closer to the all-important goal of undoing the immense harm we have set upon our planet.
Today eco-friendly tourism is more than a dream; it is a reality, a way of life, and a promising investment into our future. What once was considered a nuisance for billions of global vacationers has become a point of pride and a source of joy for eco-conscious travelers from every corner of the globe.