GoNOMAD MINI GUIDE
Choosing an Eco-Tour
Can travel benefit the environment? The question, while philosophical, has practical implications. Yes, there are eco lodges and local guides who depend on tourist income for their conservation projects. These projects are often labeled as ecotourism.
While the details vary, most definitions of ecotourism boil down to a special form of tourism that meets three criteria:
1) it provides for conservation measures
2) it includes meaningful community participation, and
3) it is profitable and can sustain itself.
Defining -- and agreeing upon -- a definition of the word "ecotourism" poses a challenge, particularly in Latin America where this buzzword remains a vague term used to market anything related to nature or environmental tourism. "Proyectos ecoturisticos" sell everything from community development projects to jet skis.
How do travelers choose a particular travel company or tour for an authentic ecotourism experience?
- Do some research
Ecotourism thrives on good word of mouth. But the Internet provides one of the best means of fact-checking and information-sharing. If you want to search for responsible eco-tour companies, one of the first places to look is in on-line directories such as GoNOMAD.com or Planeta.com http://www.planeta.com or the International Ecotourism Society http://www.ecotourism.org .
This does not mean that travelers can trust everything they see or read on the Web. But careful investigation using the Web provides new means for fact-checking as well.
If you have specific questions about ecotourism, or want to find out specific details, post queries in relevant newsgroups, such as rec-travel.latin-america or on regional bulletin boards and forums, including those on Planeta.com.
Note that many online tourism directories -- including Planeta.com -- usually require no physical inspection. "Green" travel websites depend on the honesty of someone who applies for a directory listing. Consequently, traveler feedback in our online forums is a vital source of real information.
- Ask questions
Only approach those operators you believe you_d like to hire. Ask potential tour operators questions, but don't drill them needlessly. What are there conservation projects? How do they encourage or use community participation? How do they sustain themselves?
Many of these travel operators and local services are very proud of their dedication to environmental conservation and community development and will send details via email or direct you to a section of their website which explains their programs in detail.
There are many wonderful, responsible eco-tour providers around the world, but do your homework, if you want to make sure your trip is an authentic eco-tour.
Ron Mader is the host of the award-winning Planeta.com: Eco Travels in the Americas website and is the author of the guidebook, Mexico: Adventures in Nature. He also pens the regular "Letters from Latin America" column for Transitions Abroad magazine.
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