‘Green tourism’, also known as ‘ecotourism’, is a popular buzzword these days, but what exactly does it mean? The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” If the conditions of responsibility, conservation and improvement are met, then it is likely that a particular tour activity or travel experience fulfills the coveted criteria of sustainability, or the ability to conduct an activity repeatedly without harming the environment.
The problem is that many aspects of tourism are simply not sustainable. Air travel creates pollution, thus worsening climate change. Luxury hotels consume vast amounts of energy to pamper their guests, which puts pressure on resources, while tourist attractions are often staffed by outsiders, which brings no benefit to the local community.
Fortunately, several international and national organizations, such as the Tourist Authority of Thailand, have been encouraging tourist-related businesses to follow the principles of green tourism for over a decade now. These principles require that a tourist activity contributes to the conservation of biodiversity, sustains the well-being of local people, includes a learning experience for visitors, involves responsible action on the part of tourists, is conducted on a small scale, consumes minimal non-renewable resources and offers local people the opportunity to participate in the activity.
In recent years, many eco-minded entrepreneurs have risen to the challenge, and countries like Thailand now boast a wide range of green activities to satisfy visitors who are eager to leave little or no footprint from their travels. Whether it be trekking or cycling through the countryside, sleeping in homestays, helping out on a farm or buying local crafts, newcomers to the country have plenty of ways to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture, and many of them end up making lifelong friends in the process.
With climate change now causing chaos on all continents, the number of people who see an urgent need to stop damaging our planet is increasing exponentially. So hopefully sustainable tourism will soon be seen as an essential goal, rather than simply desirable. When tourists travel responsibly, caring for and respecting the environment and culture that they are visiting, the result is invariably a win-win situation. The hosts take pride in sharing their land and culture with folks from far away, and the visitors depart with a newfound appreciation of our planet’s endless magic.