Ecotourism has swiftly emerged as the fastest growing segment in the global tourism industry. The characteristic features of ecotourism include strong emphasis on resource conservation, environmental education, traveler responsibility and active community participation. Broadly speaking, ecotourism involves experiencing natural attractions, typically through outdoor activities which are sustainable in terms of their impact on the environment.
With growing concerns about climate change and global warming, the interest in ecofriendly and responsible tourism is rapidly growing across the world. The ecotourism industry, which has been catalyzed by advancements in transportation and information technology, has brought hitherto unknown geographical landscapes into public limelight, thus bringing tourists to pristine natural locations in Asia, South America, Africa, Middle East and elsewhere.
Ecotourism, also known as sustainable tourism or nature tourism, is characterized by strong focus on natural ecosystems, promotion of environmental ethics, preservation of natural resources, respect for local culture and environmental education of travelers. The key attribute of ecotourism is to strike a fine balance between preserving natural environments with the needs of tourists. This special tourism industry holds great economic importance for developing countries having many natural attractions but limited resources to develop facilities for conventional tourism.
Eco-tourists are given a first-hand understanding and experience of nature through guided walks, wildlife safaris, bird-watching, camping, star-gazing, hiking and related activities. Popular natural attractions include deserts, rainforests, woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, mountains, beaches and polar regions, in addition to unique life forms that inhabit these natural habitats (animals, birds, insects, plants and other organism).
Need for Caution
In the absence of proper management, planning and environmental education, the influx of tourists to ecologically-sensitive areas may be detrimental to the integrity of ecosystems and indigenous cultures. The management of ecotourism attractions is of great importance in order to prevent degradation of natural ecosystems which took millions of years to evolve.
It is also essential to restrict number of visitors to natural ecosystems, otherwise such attractions will swiftly lose their charm and beauty. Environment-friendly supporting facilities for visitor are also required in order to ensure minimal impact on the environment (e.g. composting toilets, recycled water, passive solar buildings and recycling stations).