The good news is that there are more green-minded consumers than ever before and travel companies are taking note. The bad news in that in the rush to offer eco-tourism, sometimes the eco part gets diluted or even trampled on.
Eco-tourism doesn’t just mean tourism in a wilderness area. If it did, then tourist space flights would qualify – despite the obvious energy cost involved in blasting into orbit.
In my book the number one rule for eco-tourism is to do no harm. Exploring beautiful wilderness areas is fantastic – it restores the soul and raises awareness of our beautiful world – but not if you are actually hurting the places you have come to see.
Many of the big cruises to Antarctica bill themselves as eco-tourism, yet cruise ships are highly polluting and many of the activities – going ashore or taking helicopter flights – can damage an otherwise pristine environment. I’m not saying that Antarctica should be out of bounds altogether but I do think tourism there should be far more restricted than it is.
It’s a similar situation with tourism on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador – where 19th British naturalist Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. The islands need tourism to survive but it’s decidedly a mixed blessing.
It’s the same in Peru, where the Incan ruins of Macchu Picchu are straining under the weight of too many tourists.
The latest ‘eco-tourism’ claim to get my goat is the fact that the state of New South Wales in Australia is considering weakening the legal protection for national parks to allow private-sector development within the park boundaries.
The proposed changes would facilitate the building of new ‘eco-resorts’, cabins and semi-permanent camps, and changes to wilderness laws that allow for commercial tours, according to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.
There’s no need for this since the national parks are already extremely popular with visitors – and anyway, their principal purpose is conservation rather than leisure and tourism.
National Park visitor growth will easily exceed the State Plan Target, outperforming all other sectors of the tourist industry. Domestic overnight visitors visiting national parks will increase by 100 per cent by 2016, and the State Plan target is for 20 per cent growth. So why push private development into national parks?
It is inappropriate to remove protection from national parks and to offer sites within them to the tourism industry, in an “Ëœinvestor-ready’ condition – these public lands are set aside for nature. And our wilderness areas have been protected from commercial use for over twenty years and there is no need to exploit these wild places for commercial gain. Link
The moral of the story is not to be fooled by greenwash – there are some fantastic green travel initiatives billed as eco-tourism and we should support them, but we should also ask the hard questions and use some common sense.
If you fancy getting involved on the national parks issue, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW does have instructions on whom to email to lobby against the law change.