Photo essay and article by Ramla A.
WHAT IS ECO-TOURISM?
Eco-tourism is a growing trend in the global traveling and tourism industry. Initially the idea of eco-tourism was limited to behaving responsibly with the natural environment. Now, it is understood that respect for local culture and communities is also an aspect of being a responsible host and a responsible tourist. The word “eco” in “Eco-tourism” means “Ecology”, which means the total environment of a place including people, culture, customs, air, nature, infrastructure and wildlife.
As you would note, Eco-tourism takes two to accomplish: the travellers, and the host communities. You may also note that an Eco-tourist, or better, Eco-traveler, also takes the view that they are traveling to engage with the fullness of a community, and not just selected parts of it which are enhanced cosmetically for their pleasure. The Eco-traveler therefore prefers an authentic and ‘local’ experience over a cosmetic, synthetic and artificially-priced one. More on the common characteristics of Eco-travellers further on in this article!
The responsibility of ecology-friendly tourism lies both with the host community and the traveler or tourist. While the community as a whole must gain an understanding of eco-friendly tourism, so that they know their rights and duties, it is the tour operators and owners of home stays, hotels, restaurants and guest houses who are the front face of the community to the guest, and must therefore be especially educated and aware about responsible tourism. It is both their right and their duty to communicate correctly with the guest, traveler or tourist.
RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF HOST COMMUNITIES
—that travellers are well-informed. Well-informed means they get the information they are seeking. They must also be updated on any relevant local concerns and curiosities. The very least requirement is that the traveler is not deliberately misguided.
—that travellers are guided towards their best interest based on their budget, requirements and interests.
—that travellers are kept safe (but not over-protected).
—That travellers are received as warmly as the custom allows and are not left to rogue elements; however, since travel is a matter of exposure, travellers may be left to their choices are being well informed and, where proper, warned and apprised of any risks.
—that travellers are encouraged to rest or explore as necessary.
—that travellers are not allowed to molest the community, and/or its social and natural environment. However travellers are allowed and encouraged to interact.
—that in line with the emerging understanding of environment and economics, travellers are not seen as cash-bags, nor are entitled to disrupt local life and wild-life. Travellers must therefore be allowed and encouraged to share, and to save where possible. This helps protect the environment and economy for us all. Making the tourist buy or use unnecessary items or over-spend is, in the long run, not useful for the economy both because the traveler feels bad and exploited, and because it benefits only the greedy in the local community
—but that travellers are welcomed or encouraged to buy locally. It is the responsibility of the community to provide daily items and even other shoppables at affordable prices, and to ensure availability. The ethic is to give the traveler the BETTER of what the community has. Not only is it noble, it also strengthens local economy as the traveller will trust their purchases and will not feel cheated.
—guide the traveler gently about local customs, and appreciate adaptations.
—invite the able traveler to participate in local activities, including (community) works, and participation with families.
—help those travellers who are selling something on-the-go to make an income. Not prevent earning. Of course the community and it’s people determine what is useful for them.
—help travellers make good use of their time.
—introduce travellers to local customs, places, traditions, environment and ecology.
—not force local choices on travellers; they are coming from different environments and will not adapt to everything at once. They may be selective, and may take their time.
—teach travellers (or learn from them) proper waste disposal and hygiene practices. Be strict about littering and waste management and cleanliness; though the method to learn or teach can be gentle.
—develop and share programs for giving back instantly: for example, seed donations for new tree plantations when the traveler buys local wooden furniture of a certain values. These are called “off-setting” programs, where the environmental impact of consumption is off-set by replanting, re growing, recreating. A part of the traveller’s spending can be used by the community, or instantly dedicated by the traveler, to give back to community.
—explain rules and regulations about deeper integration.
—negotiate, converse, listen.
—go with the heart to make the best decisions in the interest of the traveller’s welfare such that the well-being of the community is not compromised. And if it is, or if something shift, readjustment is made and negotiated.
Please write to email@example.com for further guidance on community’s role in tourism development.
COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF ECOTOURISTS
–will stress on clean and safe environmental practices. They are also sometimes comfortable with more “natural” but not unhygienic eating, sleeping and sanitation practices.
–would like to visit natural or wild places; may seek solitude (alone time).
–prefers silence over noise; do not like disturbance, but do like to engage.
–would try to eat organic or natural food. Will prefer local food over outsider cuisine. They try to buy directly from households or community. This is not a threat to community; according to most developed understanding, buying directly from members of community and buying from multiple sellers keeps the community healthy and active. This is why eco-tourists do such buying as a responsible practice. It is the right and responsibility of the community to determine fair prices.
–may try to buy at sensible “fair” price rather than high or artificial “tourist” price. In general, fair trade means buying directly from the locals and artisans such that the artisan benefits most and directly from the income made on sales. However, the eco-tourist does not like to buy on artificial high prices because it discourages further buying, and long-term business-building. The eco-tourist may try to bargain for fair prices. In some cases, they will pay MORE than the asked price if they think that is fair!
–tends to like to engage with the community, and see REAL lifestyle and practices, rather than ARTIFICIAL or COSMETIC appearances. Eco-tourists are trying to learn and help and engage and be respectful; they are not being rude and they are not spies. Eco-tourists also sometimes teach. They are the ambassadors of the outsider world to the local community.
–tries to look for natural or local medicine
–are interested in plant and animal life, and appreciate correct information rather than folklores or stories.
—likes to engage, educate, entertain and amuse children, girls, women , the poor and other segments of society which are more vulnerable or on less equal footing with the rest of the society
—is generally more inquisitive and curious. They are not international spies; they are learning. They may prefer honesty and clarity over politeness and decoration. They want to know everything about everything!
—may stay long term or appear to do aimless activities such as walking around for conversation and survey
—may give extensive reviews on the Internet, and likewise share extensively with fellow travellers.
—prefers facts over cosmetics
—may discuss of inquire about religion or politics!
Please know that not all Eco-tourists are alike, and some are more commercial, some are communal. Different people have different knowledge and sensibilities, and while some are very progressive and evolved, others are still learning!
This guide is only indicative, and its purpose is to encourage and inspire and help people understand each other better. Just how it applied is up to the travellers, and to the hosts and host communities.
For further conversation, you may see the writer’s Facebook page,
questandlust. To request a workshop on Eco-travel or for other assignments, please write firstname.lastname@example.org.