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Ecotourism appeals to ecologically and socially conscious individuals. Also known as ecological tourism, it involves travel to pristine and protected areas, where flora, fauna and cultural heritage are the main attractions. It helps the traveller to have personal growth and learn new ways to live on the planet.
Fostering respect for different cultures and human rights, it directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities. Ecotourism is an enriching experience for those who would like to research and understand the environment around them. Promotion of recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation and creation of economic opportunities for the local communities are an integral part of ecotourism. It aims at reducing the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment and enhancing the integrity of local people.
There are several characteristics of ecotourism including travel to natural destinations, building environmental awareness, providing financial benefits and empowerment for local people, supporting human rights and demographic movements etc. It also satisfies various criteria like, conservation of biological diversity and cultural diversity through ecosystem protection, sharing of socio-economic benefits with local communities by having their informed consent and participation in the management of ecotourism enterprises etc. For many countries like, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal, Kenya, Madagascar, Antarctica etc it is a major industry of the national economy.
Ecotourism is a widely misunderstood concept. It is often used as a marketing tool to promote tourism, which is related to nature. The greenwashing practices carried out in the name of ecotourism is detrimental to the ecosystem. There are some operators who behave in environmentally irresponsible ways, using the labels of “green” and “eco-friendly.”
In order to promote ecotourism in its real sense, many environmentalists have argued for a global standard of accreditation, differentiating ecotourism companies on the basis of their level of environmental commitment. For enforcing accreditation procedures, a national or international regulatory board would be formulated, with representation from governments, hotels, tour operators, travel agents, guides, airlines, local authorities etc.