What is ecotourism?
Ecotourism is travelling responsibly to natural areas. This type of travel conserves wildlife and the environment, sustains the well-being of local people in the destination, and creates knowledge and understanding through education. Ecotourism is similar to sustainable tourism, but with a nature and wildlife focus, and the addition of educational experiences.
How to tell if a tour operator is a responsible ecotourism company?
The best ecotourism companies always follow certain ecotourism principles, as laid out by the Global Ecotourism Network.
The rights and spiritual beliefs of the local people in areas that are being visited for ecotourism are always respected. This means that positive partnerships can be formed to help empower the local people. With ecotourism, there is always an economic, social and cultural benefit for local communities, and these communities are often directly involved in the running of the tours. Funds that are raised through ecotourism should always provide a direct financial benefit for both local people and the conservation of the natural environment in the area.
Ecotours should always have a minimal footprint. This means that the impact on the environment must be as small as possible, for example, by not disturbing the behaviour of the fauna, not trampling flora, and not leaving waste behind. This includes the carbon footprint of the tour being minimal, and any associated unavoidable emissions being offset. Along this line of thinking, the facilities that are used are often low-impact. In order to uphold the values of ecotourism, ecotours are often small scale so that the physical footprint of the trips is low too. Ecotourism activities are always non-consumptive in terms of nature. The ethos “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints” is very akin to ecotourism principles.
Ecotourism adventures deliver memorable experiences to the visitors. There is a great focus on visitors having a personal experience with nature and wildlife, coupled with learning about environmental awareness, which directly leads to a greater appreciation and understanding of the natural world. These educational experiences raise awareness and sensitivity for environmental, social, and political issues in the destination. These experiences allow for learning and connection for both the visitors and the hosts.
What does Gondwana Ecotours do to promote responsible ecotourism?
We travel responsibly by making environmentally-friendly choices, working with locally-owned businesses, and supporting local non-profit organisations. We recognize that travel has substantial impacts on the ecosystems that we visit, as well as the local communities and economies. We have a duty to understand those impacts and seek to increase both our understanding and lessen our impact.
We run small group tours because we want our ecotours to provide an incredible, personalized experience. A second benefit of this is that it means our ecotours have a minimal footprint on the remote and beautiful places that we visit. We examine all aspects of our trips for their impact on the environment, society, and economy. We support local businesses, especially those who champion environmental practices. We use locally owned lodges, and work with family-owned vendors and local guides whenever possible. Contributing financially to the local economy is essential in responsible tourism.
Our ecotours are 100% carbon neutral, and we are very proud of this commitment. For the last 8 years we have offset the carbon emissions generated by each of our guest’s flights to and from our tours. In 2021, we made the decision to deepen our commitment and we now offset the carbon from the entirety of our tours with Cooler. In collaboration with Cooler, we’ve calculated the carbon footprint for each of our tours: the food, the accommodations, the activities, and the transportation. This means that our tours are verifiably 100% carbon neutral; we are one of the very few tour operators who do this.
Working with local communities
Responsible tourism must include local stakeholders in decisions that affect their lives. We try to always be respectful of local customs and culture, and work with local people to deliver our tours.
Stewardship and responsibility
We visit incredible special and fragile ecosystems. Our aim is to preserve the places we visit for the enjoyment of future generations. We engage in conservation through educational opportunities and trip activities. We also look for ways to give back to the places we enjoy by supporting local causes.
Learning and Improving
Importantly, we are always trying to do better. Such as how we decided to go 100% carbon neutral in 2021, we are always looking to learn how we can make our ecotours even more sustainable in all aspects.
To make sure your next adventure is a responsible and sustainable ecotour, remember to check out the company you are travelling with to make sure their environmental impact is as low as possible, and they understand and support the local communities in the area you are travelling to.