Ecotourism has been gaining popularity since the 1980s, and it is estimated that the number of ecotourists increases by about 10% annually. On the one hand, the implication is that nature itself has become a tourist attraction. On the other hand, it demonstrates an anxiety that we are destroying nature, and reflects an effort to preserve environments and cultures that are in danger of extinction.
The fundamental impetus behind ecotourism is the notion that traditional tourism is destructive, but that efficient and considerate touristic practices can serve the opposite role. Ecotourism draws travelers to remote and undeveloped locations, promotes education about native cultures and the fragile ecosystems, and ensures that their presence produces the smallest impact possible.
The primary ‘tourist attractions’ of these trips are natural: exotic plants and animals, isolated cultures, and the opportunity for personal growth. Ecotourists go on safaris, jungle treks, rainforest explorations, and scuba dive on protected reefs. The industry is regulated by locals, and the money it generates contributes to the preservation of their way of life and environment. The rationale is that local control ensures the promotion of local interests, and gives indigenous people the opportunity and financial security to resist more destructive forces of globalization.
While it is certainly a movement fueled by the best of intentions, in many parts of the world the results are not always clear. In the west, the green initiatives encouraged by ecotourism help reverse or slow the damage already being done. Elsewhere, however, the opposite may be true. The goal of this type of travel is to preserve isolated cultures and landscapes from the encroachments of the modern world. But the strategy for doing so inevitably brings the modern world to the places it aims to keep ‘unspoiled’. Proponents claim that establishing ecofriendly tourism first will stop irresponsible tourism from encroaching.
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