Is ecotourism the future of travel?

Chloe York, Staff Writer

Spring Break was not lacking in Bucket List Travel destinations this year. LFHS students were all over the globe. Excursions range from boat trips to safaris in the jungle. 

Yet, many of the trips share one common theme, they all involve elements of ecotourism, also known as sustainable tourism. 

Many are unfamiliar with the term ecotourism, but we will be hearing about it much more soon due to its increasing popularity. 

To define it, the term ecotourism refers to responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. It is a rapidly growing segment of the tourism industry.

Graph of the Global Ecotourism Market (2021) based on research done by Grandview Research

According to research conducted by Grandview Research,  the global ecotourism market is expected to grow from $157.76 billion in 2021 to $185.43 billion in 2022, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.5%. This suggests that the ecotourism industry will likely experience significant growth in the coming year. 

Statistics from a Business Wire article detailing the 2022 ecotourism global market, project that the ecotourism market will reach $299.03 billion in 2026, representing a CAGR of 12.7% from 2022 to 2026. This indicates that the ecotourism industry is expected to continue its growth trajectory over the next few years, albeit slightly slower. 

These projections are subject to various factors that could impact the growth of the ecotourism market, including changes in consumer behavior, environmental policies, and global economic conditions.

Junior Rylie Koval, an experienced eco-tourist, recently traveled to South Africa with her family. 

Elephants in South Africa (Rylie Koval)

“My family values travel, as I have been to Australia, Costa Rica, Belize, Switzerland, Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, Morrocco, Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Spain,” Said Koval,“ I love exploring the world. I am so grateful for all the adventures that I’ve experienced.”

Koval shares how ecotourism illuminates a whole new perspective on the world for her.

“I would travel to South Africa again. I met so many wonderful people and saw lots of beautiful things. I’m currently in contact with a local woman in Cape Town who runs a nonprofit organization that helps underprivileged children get an education. I hope to continue that relationship over the next few years.” 

Many claim that ecotourism changed their worldview, and they have an overall positive experience. It makes them more willing to try different things, experience, and indulge in local cultures. 

Junior Danielle Moore,  recently traveled to Costa Rica for spring break. 

Graph of International Tourist Arrivals by World Region (United Nations World Tourism Organization)

“I would 100% recommend it to others because it allows you to see and experience so many things that are not available in all places around the world,” Moore said. 

However, even with so many people experiencing the benefits of sustainable travel and tourism, many environmentalists are becoming concerned with its increasing popularity because of the potential threat to local communities and ecosystems being disturbed by eco-tourists. 

According to an article from the Population Reference Bureau, environmentalists share five main concerns with the recent rise in sustainable tourism. 

  • Destruction of ecosystems
  • Population pressures
  • Eco-exploitation
  • Locals being pushed out 
  • Vulnerable industry

To counter these concerns, Regina Scheyvens, a professor at Massey University, whose studies focus on th relationship between  tourism and sustainable development, conducted a study called, Ecotourism and the empowerment of local communities, claims that “the rationale behind the framework is that ecotourism should promote both conservation and development at the local level.”

She explains how Ecotourism promotes empowerment in the local communities through economic, phycological, political, and social means.

Turtle in Costa Rica (Rylie Koval)

In terms of psychological empowerment, the “Self-esteem of many community members is enhanced because of outside recognition of the uniqueness and value of their culture, their natural resources, and their traditional knowledge.” Scheyvens said in her research. 

These potential concerns do not outweigh the proven benefits of ecotourism. 

“Ecotourism is a great way to support the local economy and encourage environmentally friendly practices,” Environmental Sciences teacher Mary Beth Nawor said.

The sustainable tourism industry is on the rise and is not projected to slow down anytime soon. This leads to the conclusion that ecotourism is indeed the future of tourism.