My Green Two Cents

Eco-enthusiast Tanya Roberts blogs about green trends, issues and her favourite sustainable products.

Ecotourism: what does it really mean?

Defining the “eco” in ecotourism

Green travel, eco-travel, sustainable travel, and of course ecotourism. These types of travel catchphrases are certainly buzz worthy—but what do they really mean?

One of the first definitions of ecotourism was made in 1983 by the Mexican architect Héctor Ceballos-Lascuráin, who defined it as “That form of environmentally responsible tourism that involves travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the object of enjoying, admiring and studying the nature (the scenery, wild plants and animals), as well as any cultural aspect (both past and present) found in these areas, through a process which promotes conservation, has a low impact on the environment and on culture and favours the active and socio-economically beneficial involvement of local communities.”

Today, the definition hasn’t changed much. According to The International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” On its website, the society states that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:

  • Minimize impact.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

It’s evident that ecotourism (or whichever catchphrase you’d like to use) incorporates the environment, people, culture, economy and personal health. And although in an ideal world, our travel would leave no footprint, let’s be honest—to enter a new place ultimately changes it to some degree. So, how can we both enjoy the adventure of exploring new terrain while minimizing the negative impacts of these experiences?

Avoiding greenwashing

With so many hotels, resorts and destinations claiming to be “green” these days, it can be a bit harder to detect greenwashing—a form of marketing deceptively used to give the perception an organization is more environmentally-friendly than it is. Evidently, it becomes difficult to tangibly measure how “green” something really is.

Sure, there is some response to this, such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, which outlines 40 voluntary criteria that any tourism management organization aspiring to be “green” should achieve, or the many certification programs such as Green Key or the Sustainable Tourism Education Program, but it’s still a good idea to ask your own questions to make sure you’re always engaging in responsible travel. Check out these responsible travel tips or read Green Living’s Guide to Eco-Conscious Travel for ideas on how to leave nothing behind but footprints.

Home-grown hot spots

You don’t have to travel around the globe to find exotic and interesting destinations. One of my fondest trip experiences was in B.C., driving from Victoria to Tofino and exploring starfish for the first time at a campground near the ocean.

Canada continues to emerge as a destination for ecotourism and adventure travel. For visitors and residents seeking authentic wilderness, adventure and culture, here are a few good reasons why Canada should be on your travel radar:

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in Tofino is a member of the BC Sustainable Tourism Collective and one of 94 treasured biosphere reserves. Clayoquot Sound is home to beautiful, temperate rainforests that support wild salmon, rare species and giant cedar trees more than 1,000 years old. The resort offers a wide and wild range of activities including hiking, whale watching, hot springs and mountain biking.

E’Terra is described as a summit of privacy, elegance and environmental design on the shores of Georgian Bay, Ontario. With suites named after rare species of local flora and fauna, the resort offers comfort with a taste of wilderness, without compromising its dedication to protecting the environment.

Island Spirits on Grasshopper Island, off the south shore of Rice Lake in the area of Roseneath, Ontario, is an off-the-grid, eco-friendly hideaway. It offer serene accommodations; guided ecotours, including a float plane excursion and Indian River kayak and canoe adventures; and cottages on beautiful Rice Lake.

G Adventures is a Canadian global adventure company and responsible tour operator with the goal of “giving back more to the communities and the natural surroundings that we help you to visit than what is being taken away in our travels.” Through the preservation of cultural heritage, and conservation and replenishment of the natural environment, G Adventures strives to improve the lives of local people, and these values are integrated into all of the company’s decisions and actions.

No matter where you travel to, be an informed traveller and ask questions before, during and after your trip. With all the hype surrounding ecotourism, let’s work to make the term authentic, helpful and not just an eco-facade.


Tanya Roberts is a graduate of the Bachelor of Environmental Studies program (BES) at York University.